I am fairly new to bread baking (8 months ) and what I typically do is read as much as I can and then incorporate various techniques that I think will give good results. So this might be helpful to other newcomers to this world of bread making...or it might not! And it will probably bore the heck out of the seasoned bakers here. But nonetheless, here we go.
When I refresh my mother, barm, starter, I use 1/3 cup each of whole wheat, dark rye and vital wheat gluten and 1 cup of water. Let this sit out for 4 hours (or a light on in the oven) and then back into the fridge until further additions are done. I add 2 tbs of flour at each addition period, which is 2-3 days, and I try to coincide the last addition the night before I make my firm starter. My firm starter is whatever is left over after removing one cup of barm to refresh my starter. I measured the leftover one time and it was approximately 1 1/2 cups. I add 1 1/2 cups of whatever flour type that I will use and this produces a nice workable firm starter without the need for adding water. I then let this sit out for four hours or longer (since it is winter here and I keep my house cool, I turn on the oven light and put the firm starter in oven and let the light serve as a warmer. The temp will get anywhere from 78-83 degrees during a four+ hour period. A thermometer is essential to keep a watchful eye and accurate temperature rates.) More often than not, I will exceed the 4 hour ferment and let it go sometimes 5-6 hours. It all depends on how much it has risen. Then after that period, I always stick it in the fridge for an overnight cold ferment. From "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart.
The next morning I remove the firm starter, cut it into small pieces and stick it in the lighted oven to warm up for an hour. I add my flours to a large mixing bowl (I am currently adding 8 cups of "OO" , 1/2 hard red winter and 1/2 soft spring wheat, 1/2 cup of flax and 1/2 cup of vital wheat gluten) for a total of 9 cups. I then add approximately 3 3/4 +- cups of distilled water. I used to boil fridge filtered water and then let it cool to 90-100 degrees and let the chlorine evaporate. i am trying distilled water to see if it is any better. I incorporate the flours and water and then let it rest for 1 hour. Per Hannah Field in "How to Build Your Own Earthen Oven" by Kiko Denzer. Then I begin my hand kneading process. I add 1 tsp of sea salt at the start, 1 tsp salt after the 1st five minutes, another 1 tsp at the 10 minute mark for a total 3 tsp and 15 minutes of hand kneading. The addition of salt after the rest period was also suggested by Hannah Field. I actually bought a KitchenAid mixer, but it is still in the box as I actually enjoy feeling the way the flour mixture responds to water amounts added. I then do a windowpane test to check for gluten development. It is like the blind leading the blind, but I am trying at least! I do not stretch and fold, as I have just come to learn of this technique from a reader here. I simply hand knead.
Then I remove the kneaded dough and lightly mist the bowl with a vegetable oil to keep it from sticking, as per Peter Reinhart. I cover the bowl with platic wrap and put it into a lighted oven for a 4+ hour ferment. The oven temperature at this point is typically 75-78 degrees. I measure the dough from the top of the rim and determine rise this way. I try to let the dough double in size and this is the best way to determine that result. I have found that a 5 hour ferment gives much better results than the typical 4 hour ferment. That is if you have the luxury of time. The oven temp is typically 81-83 degrees after this ferment period.
I remove the bowl and turn it upside down on the counter, resting on the plastic wrap. I then cut the rounded dough mass into four pieces. I have ready a cutting board that I put a piece of parchment paper on that has been generously dusted with cornmeal. I then shape my boules and arrange them approximately 1 1/2 inches apart from one another. This is so they fit onto my square pizza stone. I have found that the parchment paper allows me to hold one end of it while I gently put the boules into the oven on the pizza stone. Placement is fairly crucial, so this is why I use the parchment paper. Then I very lightly mist the tops of the boules with the vegetable spray, as per peter Reinhart, and cover the boules loosely with plastic wrap. I then put the entire board into the lighted oven for the 3 hour proofing period. The oven is also 78-83 degrees at this time. I have found that with the limited space on the pizza stone, the boules will eventually touch lightly upon one another as the oven spring and spread takes place. It is a sacrifice that I endure since I would rather do 4 boules at a time than a fewer amount. I figure with that much effort, I want the greatest amount of benefit.
After the proofing period, I remove the cutting board and boules to the counter. I start my oven and set the temperature to 500 degrees. My pizza stone is in place and I have a cast iron skillet on the top rack. I boil some water in the tea kettle and will use this for my burst of steam at the start. I remove the plastic wrap and cut the grignes into my boules just a few moments before I put them into the ready oven. Doing this too soon makes the cuts spread as I have found out. I gently transfer the boules on the parchment paper onto my peel and get ready to put into the hot oven. The 1 cup of boiled water is put into a water canister with a long neck so that it is easier to pour into the hot cast iron skillet on the top rack. I have burned my fingers twice from the emitting steam and that is two times too many. Live and learn. I open the oven door and place the boules onto the pizza stone. Note: I also cut out a cardboard protector that I put on my oven glass door to protect it from splashing water, since this will cause the glass to break. I then add the water to the skillet and close the door quickly once the cardboard protector is removed. I count 30 seconds and open the door and spray misted water onto both sides of the oven and not the boules. I do this 3 times at 30 second intervals. Then I turn the oven to 450 degrees and bake for the approximately 30 minutes (minus the 1 1/2 minutes for the misting) or required time. I test my boules by tapping the bottom and if they sound like a hollow drum, they are good to be removed and put onto a cooling rack.
This is my process as I have accumulated information thus far. I keep very good notes for future reference. Or to try to avoid making the same mistake twice, would be more accurate! If anyone would care to give me helpful instruction to improve my process, I would be very appreciative of your effort. I am truly enjoying making my own bread and this addition to my cooking has been a pleasant and rewarding experience. And if you have read this far, thank you for taking the time to learn about how I do my bread making. Right or wrong, this is my technique! I have obtained satisfactory results for myself, but I am sure I am doing things that could be improved upon. This is where you come in! And thank you for that.