It is science, but no rockets. Unless, of course, you haven't gotten off the ground. Then everyone who has looks like they're flying rockets.
I've been making bread since forever. I actually taught the Egyptians the process ;-)
No, really, I've been either watching my mother or making bread myself on and off for at least 60 years. I've been making sourdough for twenty-ish years. The rewarding and fulfilling part of this is that I get to eat really good bread all the time. In addition to that, all of my friends think I'm the bread king. The accolades are nice but at the end of the day it's my own satisfaction that matters. After all these years I can now create completely new formulas (formulae?) like my latest coconut bread made for a friend, or go sideways with an old formula to try something new.
So why do I sound so braggadocious? Because this post is my promise to those who are just starting, or restarting, or just struggling for what ever reason, you can do this. Remember, it doesn't require rockets. If you just keep trying, and by that I mean you need to make bread on a regular and consistent schedule, it will come. After years of making yeasted bread successfully I wanted to make that legendary and mystical sourdough stuff. So I did my research, long before this great site appeared, so in some ways it should now be easier, and gave up making a scratch starter when I found a source for a free one that had a good reputation, got said starter, and started making bread. Of COURSE the beginning attempts were horrific. It's a different world working with flour and acids.
I made my formula, made adjustments, made it again, twice a week for 4 - 6 months before it got good. So there's nothing to boast about concerning my learning speed. If it was edible, I ate it. If it was more than I could eat I gave it away, and that's a key part of this process for me. And if it wasn't edible I chucked it. Eventually I got to the point where even my screwups made good bread. Maybe not great bread but better than that stuff in the stores.
Why is it important to give bread away? Tonight I'm borrowing a free dump-trailer from a friend I give bread to, to haul free soil given to me by a friend I give bread to, to increase the value of my property. I haven't even started to calculate how much value is involved in this little transaction, but it's more than the cost of a few loaves of bread.
Anyway, this last weekend I made my signature sourdough. I almost always make two batches of two loaves. I had prepared two portions of starter and when I began assembling the doughs, I discovered I had too little of white bread flour. So rather than throwing one starter out, I made a half-and-half white/wheat. I know wheat takes more moisture than white so I adjusted the hydration level on the fly from 75% to 79% and followed my standard process. After overnight cold retardation, I let it rise to room temp, portioned and baked.
The picture above is the whole wheat result. I'm not a photographer, the picture was just taken with my phone, but it turned out better than the intended turned out. The example below is the original formula. It's a little under developed but it will eat just fine. I'm not entering it in any contest.
I think the whole wheat loaves are a little under developed too. Here's that crumb:
Personally, I don't like a crumb that is so open you can't make a sandwich to take to work because everything inside will fall out, but I like it a little more open than this.
I love making bread, or baking in general, and love eating the products of my efforts even more. I also love teaching people how to do it. That's the reason for this post: to encourage you stugglers. If you persist in your efforts, post your results, give your bread away so you can make more, study and learn, eventually it will be easy and even your 'failures' will delight you and your friends. Occasionally you might post some good looking images of what your pain and suffering taught you how to make. It won't take 60 years either.
One other encouragement: it's not rocket science and it's not religion. You don't have to believe everything you read. I almost never throw away starter. I feed mine once a week or two. I can hear the masses inhaling, aghast. Sometimes I go too long and have to resurrect it after three months of inactivity. It takes a whole day. You don't have to make only sourdough. A really superb yeasted bread is satisfying too. When I don't have two days to make SD, I make WW sandwich bread. It takes 4 hours. The only down side to all of this is I can't eat store-bought bread anymore. So if I have time I make SD, if I have less time I make WW. If I have no time, I go without. And that sucks.