Tartine Leaven & Rising Issues
This is my first post on this great site, which I've been forced to turn to after repeated failures with my Tartine Basic Country Loaf. Any advice is appreciated! After four bakes, I think my biggest problems are with the leaven and the dough fermentation temperatures. Here's the deal:
My leaven never seems to want to pass the float test. It increases in volume nicely and gets very bubbly on the top and sides, but it will never float. I've tried testing it after 8, 10, 12, 24 and 30 hours, but no luck, even in the suggested room-temperature water, cold water, and hot water (not sure if the water temp makes a difference). It's always spent most of its time fermenting on the counter in a 65-degree kitchen as recommended, and I've tried the book's suggested extra half hour in an 80-degree oven to no avail. Because it takes so incredibly long to go from leaven to finished loaf, I'm reluctant to keep trying test bakes until I can achieve a proper float.
Even without floating, my loaves have come out better and better with each consecutive bake as I intuit some tweaks to make here and there. Since the recipe makes two loaves, I've tried each batch with two different methods; the first loaf being baked after a 3-4 hour final rise in an 80-degree oven, and the second after rising in the fridge over night. In neither case does the dough seem to rise very much and actually appears to deflate a bit, even though it rises properly (I think) during baking. Every time, the finished flavor is delicious, the crust is nicely caramelized and is very crispy, the crumb looks properly "airy," and I even get the nice hollow sound when I tap the bottom of the loaf. The problem is that it still seems very dense, feeling like it weighs about 10 pounds (I've never actually weighed it), and the interior seems like it contains too much moisture. Even after waiting 2-4 hours to slice it, the knife ends up with a bit of a residue on it. The last time I baked (before giving up in order to wait for a floating leaven), I determined that my main problem with poor rising may have been with too high a temperature during bulk fermentation. The "pot of boiling water in a closed oven" method just creates an overly warm and moist environment, so I finally figured out how to get my oven to a reliable, dry 80-degrees in hopes this will make a difference in the rising on the next attempt.
So, that's about it. I think I've covered all the bases, but please let me know if additional information is helpful. Oh, in case it matters, I've been making my leavens with the same starter I've been using all along (now 6-7 weeks old), which I feed daily when it's been left at room temperature, or every 2-3 days when it's been stored in the fridge. It doesn't appear to become very aerated in the fridge, but it swells and gets very gassy on the counter. If it's been stored in the fridge, I always remove it and let it get nice and bubbly at room temperature before making the leaven. At no time has it ever achieved the "stinky cheese" smell, which kind of disappoints me since I'm hoping to someday make as sour a loaf as humanly possible, and that seems to go hand in hand with the starter aroma. Tips on that are appreciated too!
Thanks for listening. Looking forward to hearing from you.