Although I am a pretty experienced bread maker, there is something in this craft that completely eludes me. I want to bake wheat-flour bread with hard, thick crust and large irregular holes in the crumb. But no matter what I do, I cannot seem to achieve that.
I bake sourdough or regular bread. I use poolish or long retarded fermentation. I make doughs with various degrees of hydration, up to 80%. I use fresh or dry active yeast. I try to handle the dough as gently as possible. I make pan loaves or free-form loaves of various sizes. I bake with various amounts of steam. I tried to bake inside a large pot. Nothing helps - the loaves come out from the oven with rock-hard crusts, but they invariably soften as the loaves cool down. And no irregular, large holes in the crumb, ever. Even when I bake focaccia or ciabatta, they have small uniform holes.
My bread is always very tasty and flavorful; it's just not what I want it to be.
What am I missing?! I would appreciate any suggestions.