It's hard for me to believe, but it's been a year now that I've been lurking around TFL. I never much post - it never seems like I've much to contribute in the way of advice, and my compliments are always rendered less elegantly than those of others. Anyhow, I've learned an awful lot, but I do have a few questions. Since they vary in topic, I figured the general forum was the place to be.
1) If it seems like my slashes open as far as they can - by which I mean there is little or no ear and the surface of the loaf is essentially flat - does that mean the loaves were underproofed, the slashes too shallow, or am I doing alright?
2) I've made several loaves of sourdough which don't rise. I use a 100% starter fed about twice a week and kept in the fridge. My loaves have a pleasant - if mild - sour taste, but the dough rises very little during bulk fermentation and hardly at all during proofing. They do, however, have excellent oven spring. My default recipe is summarized as follows:
AP flour 45%
Rye flour 5%
Bread flour 50%
(You'll notice there's no starter listed. I just feed my starter, and when I'm ready to make the bread I look around my dorm to see how many people I'll have to feed and at that point calculate how much flour and water is needed for a 70% hydration. So the amount of starter varies, but it's usually around 60% of the flour's weight.)
Mix, rest 20, knead 5, ferment 3-4, fridge overnight, shape, proof 1-2, bake at 450 on a stone with steam.
Anyways, I've heard mixed reports about keeping a cold starter. Some people seem to say that the starter will be just fine if cold; others suggest that the cold won't kill the starter but a cold starter takes a few days and a few feedings to activate. Should my starter live outside of the fridge?
3) I recently received a gift of two Chicago Metallic loaf pans - a baguette pan and an Italian loaf pan - as well as the couche sold be KAF. Links:
At home I bake in a convection oven (the convection can be turned off) on the Williams Sonoma stone; at school I bake in a non-convection oven on an old round stone (I didn't buy it, so I can't say more than that it seems to be about 3/8" thick.) My question is whether one or both of these pans will serve a purpose in either environment, or if the combination of couche + stone renders the pans unnecessary. What are the differences between baking in a perforated pan and on a stone?
Thanks for all your help, both in response to this post and for the daily advice and inspiration I've received from TFL.
Edit: I knew I was forgetting one as I wrote this.
4) When dividing and shaping after the bulk ferment, is it better to pat the dough or to stretch the dough? Both seem to have a degassing effect; but all the instructions I've seen for shaping batards and the like seem to start with some sort of flat shape, be it an oval or a rectangle.