First and foremost: I want to acknowledge and thank Floyd Mann for hosting and managing a wonderful resource here. I don't know if other pastimes and obsessions are served by forums like this on the internet. I assume they are. But this is really a phenomenal resource. Thanks Floyd!
I'm Tom, even though my sign-on here is Toad.de.b. (note to self: THINK before you choose a sign-on to a public forum). I've mostly been lurking here although intermittently posting to forums as if I know what I'm talking about. Time to set the record straight: I don't. There. Feeling better already.
I started trying to bake bread a year ago, when Spring semester ended in 2011 (I work in public education). At that time, I convinced myself that I had some time to devote to a book/challenge my son had given me the Christmas before, Jim Lahey's My Bread. So last summer, I made weekly loaves of bread from that book, using Lahey's method. They were, how to put it?, pretty forgettable. They were edible, if not actually enjoyable, for about 12-24 hours after baking, but by about the time the burns on my arms (from his method) would start blistering up and the flour coating all the kitchen's surfaces was finally cleaned up, the loaves would be tasteless rocks destined to sustain the raccoon families that prey upon our compost bins.
When again I had some time to try to 'move to the next level' (as my wife suggested perhaps I should, assuming that the disappointment so far had been Lahey's fault and not mine) it was Christmas 2011 and this time my son, curse bless him, gave me Tartine Bread. So I've been trying to make the basic bread from that book for about 6 months now. I've not had anything resembling success yet, but I've only been trying for a total of a year (counting the Lahey period). So I know that I have a lot of self-training to go. Still, I'm anxious to "get it" about bread baking and try to remain optimistic that I eventually will. I do wonder how many years of trying it has taken others on TFL to bake a safe and enjoyable loaf of bread. Turns out that the simple, noble objective of baking bread for the household is infinitely harder than I could ever have imagined, or than is depicted in these damn books my son keeps giving me.
For anyone still reading: Most doughs prepared from Tartine have been so bad that we couldn't see wasting electric baking them (there's one "fermenting" now in fact that I'm not going to bake, unless anyone's up for pancakes). They are shiny, sticky, sloppy messes like wallpaper paste that never really form a "loaf" or have what books, YouTubes, blogs and TFLoafers call "strength", despite old fashioned kneading, or French folding, or stretching and folding, or Lahey style passive neglect, or even resurrection of a 30+ year old Kitchen Aid mixer this weekend (that turned the 75% hydration dough into dripping batter in 2 minutes flat on speed 2). The doughs stick to me, to the counter, to scrapers, bowls and buckets, not to mention expensive rice/wheat floured bannetons from SFBI (as if banneton quality was the limiting factor in my baking! :-). The next stop for most of those that have actually made it to the oven (if they didn't pour off the peel) has been the compost. I did bake one "loaf" in March that had a ~good (well, not bad, for once) flavor, but of course with the geometry of a ciabatta, as my "loaves" always do except when they explode out the top (posted here).
The other 45 attempts (by my count and notes), were either not baked, baked and soon composted, or baked and maybe a few slices were eaten. Note that's not 52 bakes, even though I've theoretically baked every weekend for a year (we don't take vacations): That's because I've vowed to quit several times and skipped a few weekends. But this appears to be an addiction like smoking (I don't): "Quittin's easy, I've done it hundreds of times." My wife avoids the products of these efforts, which is ironic since I gave in to my son's urging on the now-laughable (she's not, I try to) assumption that I could make bread that's a closer approximation than that coming out of our local boulangeries and supermarkets to that which she grew up in Europe eating and misses so desperately (she is Norman French + Italian).
A while back I declared that One Year would be the limit of my attempts to bake a loaf of bread that we could safely consume more than a slice or two of, and maybe actually enjoy. If not, I would well and truly cease and desist, put all the paraphenalia on Craig's List and compost the remaining flour. But addictions die hard I guess -- never had one before.