Bread "rises" out, not up
I have been silently following this forum for a while, and I am always impressed by people's depth of knowledge and willingness to help. So I figured this would be the perfect place to go with my sourdough questions. And I have a few...
1) My main question is that most breads I bake with my starter tend to expand and rise a bit, but not much. I also find them quite dense, and they harden quickly. Why would this be? I have a few suspicions, but I'm looking to pinpoint things properly... These are some of the potential causes:
2) First off, my starter SEEMS active and nice (ie, it bubbles, smells tangy, and increases in size, doubling after a feeding and 12 hours out of the fridge), but I tend to not discard any past what I use (and I don't use it THAT often). I have a big bowl in the fridge. Could this be causing my problem? Do I need to start discarding some with every feeding? And how often should I be feeding it if it's in the fridge (I feed it once a week at this point)?
3) I always mix whole wheat and white flour in my recipes. Is this another problem? I use a 60:40 ratio, usually, removing a tablespoon of whole wheat flour off of every cup (which has worked for me with other conversion baked goods before I started playing with sourdough, and they weren't dense). Is the whole wheat causing the density? Is there a way to make part-whole wheat bread, but not have it so dense?
4) Another thing I suspect I'm doing wrong is that I let my dough rise too long on that first rise, usually 8 hours (instead of the 2 recipes call for), and then another 5-12 hours when the loaves arte shaped (this varies based on the recipe). The reason for that is that I live in Canada, and my kitchen isn't too warm in the day, so I've been giving my sourdough extra time to develop... But maybe I'm causing it to expand a lot and then deflate, and I'm missing the perfect point? I find that my dough does expand during the initial long rest, but it doesn't really grow during the second ferment, and that's when my loaves turn out a bit lacklustre. What am I doing wrong?
I've documented some of my baking experimentation here (http://immigrantstable.com/2014/01/09/sourdough-part-i/, http://immigrantstable.com/2014/01/20/liquid-sourdough-starter/, and http://immigrantstable.com/2014/02/11/rosemary-sourdough-bread/). I finally reached a breaking point when I made this lovely-looking challah by Zolablue (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4200/sourdough-challah-photos-recipe), and got some deflated looking loaves (photos attached). So I decided to turn to the experts....
Your advice would be highly appreciated!