Hello from Sydney, Australia
I've been bitten by the baking bug and have been scratching (for answers) for the last couple of weeks. I did a Sourdough Bread Baking Class at Bourke Street Bakery (one of our very good Sydney bakers) about a month ago.
We left the course with shaped loaves (made from Bourke Street commercial dough), additional dough (that I worked during the course) and a little cup of Bourke Street starter. The Bourke Street loaves baked beautifully and I was sold on home baking. The loaves I made from my dough were less successful - didn't rise nearly so well (even though the crust was excellent) and my shaping needed considerable work. Next, baking with my own starter...
The next few loaves I made were very disappointing - dense and heavy but actually quite tasty. After much trial and error I learned I was seriously underfeeding my starter. Then I learned to leave it be after feeding to do its thing - what I first thought was an active starter was next to nothing. Once my starter improved the loaves I baked were still not great.
I've now been working on my kneading, shaping and proving techniques. Again, I wasn't giving the loaves enough time to do their thing when proving. What I've learned about kneading is to use feel and appearance more than strict time guides. My shaping, I'm sure, will continue to improve the more I do it.
I am very grateful to all the enthusiasts who've contributed to this site and others like it. I'm not yet a good baker, but I did bake two very satisfactory loaves this weekend.
But I know I'll be scouring TFL often!