Pain au Levain again and again
It seems to me that if you are trying to gain proficiency in baking bread that it helps to pick a formula and make it over and over again until it starts to seem natural and easy. I'm not there yet with Hamelman's pain au levain but it ain't for lack of trying. My biggest difficulty with it so far has been something that should be simple - following the instructions. When I first started making it I viewed the rise times as something like suggestions. 2 hours seemed like a ridiculously long time to do the final rise, and I would do 1 hour and then wonder why the bottom split. Last week I did an experiment. I split the dough into three 1 lb loaves and tried doing a final ferment of 1.5 hours, 2 hours, and 2.5 hours respectively. The 2.5 hour rise won the looks test, but the 2 hour tasted the best. And surprise, surprise, the 1.5 hour loaf was a mess. Today, I followed all of Hamelman's times with 2 hours for the final ferment (the book says 2 to 2.5 hours.) I still can't get as pretty a loaf as my model in all this (and the post that set me off on this particular quest) http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/17236/agony-defeat-and-thrill-victory. But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying. And the great thing about practicing on a bread like this is you get to eat it.