First Sourdough Success and the danger of overproofing
Well, after five total failures of the last couple of months I finally produced an edible sourdough loaf! Huzzah!
This was ready just-in-time for dinner so I cut into it after only 15min out of the oven, hence the rough looking crumb but it was very tasty and I am pretty happy with it.
However, the last five loaves were nothing like this at all. They were dense, inedible, flat, lumps every one, and I thought I would share the trap I fell into in case it helps any other beginners. In short, I had been badly over-proofing the dough.
It seems there are lots of sourdough recipes out there that expect very slow acting starters. The book I was learning from suggested an initial rise for 5 hours, then shape and then a further 10-13 hours before you bake. First of all I tried these timings and ended up with pancakes. But because I was used to the rapid, strong rise of commercial yeast I actually incorrectly thought that I had not allowed enough time for a proper rise and ended up heading in the entirely wrong direction.
It was only after doing some reading here and applying a bit of common sense (man, these flat loaves are REALLY sour!) that I realised I needed less time, not more.
The above loaf had just under 6 hour on the initial rise and then 3 hours after shaping.
So, the moral of the story is: don't expect massive commercial yeast style rises out of your sourdough and if the end result is a super-sour-pancake then you have probably over-proofed the dough and you should cut down the times next time round.
Anyway, now that I know my starter a bit better I look forward to many a sourdough loaf in the future!