I finally did it!
I finally, FINALLY managed to get a good open crumb! I bake my 100% WW sandwich bread (5 loaves at a time of it) every week, and I think my problem with too dense a crumb is overhandling, and under kneading.
That said, I *finally* managed what I consider a nice, open crumb, for the first time EVER. I started a couple of years ago trying to do a basic french, and I've had nothing but sandwich bread crumb. Tasty, but not what I was after.
I decided to try a sourdough again (wild yeast starter - had one a year and a bit ago, but an ever-expanding waistline made me decide to let it go! lol) and my first batch was a doorstop, and tasted like one. I actually threw that batch out, which I'd never done before... it was that inedible.
Tried this second batch - countertop bulk fermentation with 3 folds 30mins apart in a cold house, took almost 4 hours. Cut the batch in half, very very very gently shaped it into a ball and a ... well, a squished ball, it was still pretty round. :-) Threw the boule in a pyrex bowl lined with a flour-dusted tea towel, the batard went into a liberally floured corn husk (I think) oval basket that I picked up at the dollar store, into the fridge for an overnight retard. Out of the fridge at 9am, on the counter all morning, put the boule in the pyrex bowl in a warm spot to warm up the bowl (it was really cold). I baked the boule first, around noon, on a preheated 500* stone (turned down to 450* immediately after closing oven door), under a cheapo stainless steel bowl "cloche" that had been rinsed in hot water, no other steam. Slashed the bread after I dumped it out of the bowl onto the stone. Decent oven spring.
The batard went into the oven second, and I think it was significantly warmer than the boule becuase the basket warmed up MUCH faster than the cold thick pyrex bowl, and it had the 35 mins or so when the boule was in the oven. I re-heated the oven to 500*, threw the bread on the stone, and tried a weird zig-zag lightning shaped slash for interest. A cup of hot water went into an old oblong pan on the bottom of the oven that I had filled with garden rocks of around 1-2" in diameter. They act as great heat sinks to really get the steam going. I *didn't* cloche the batard, and after about 3 or 4 minutes in the oven I was worried about getting oven spring so I sprayed the top of the bread with water a bit.
Holy exploding oven spring batman!
That is NOT an optical illusion - that sucker just went kaboom in the middle!
Very very tasty bread, mellow but noticeable sour flavour that improved the next day. I'm not a big fan of "San Francisco" sour, so a big sour flavour is not what I'm after.
The crust was pretty thick, and at times rather like gnawing on an old car tyre. After toasting, the crust was much thinner and more enjoyable to eat. It was crispy (or maybe hard?) out of the oven, but cutting the crust was like trying to saw wood! The crumb is deliciously moist, but I definetly prefer it after toasting. I baked it to 205*(ish), and I"m wondering if I should turn down the oven another few degrees and bake it to 210* or so? What do you folks think - would that "thin" the crust like what I'm getting after the bread is toasted?
Definetly a keeper! See another couple of pics of the batard, and larger sizes on my flickr page.
Thanks for sitting through my self-congratulatory message. :-)