When to bake?
Did a test bake today from a sample starter I'm playing with. The plan was to let it proof at room temperature for about 15 to 18 hours. However, by 12 hours it had clearly peaked (this is an aggressive starter). So I shaped my loaf with the plan of letting it rise again for about 2 to 3 hours, then bake. After less than 1 hour it had doubled and my instincts said "bake it", but the clock said different. So I let it go another hour and by the time I slashed it prior to baking it had gone "soft". No oven spring......if anything, it fell down. Crumb holes look to me like they may have collapsed after the baking, so I'd say I let it go too long.
I've seen references to "poking" it. How does this go? If it springs back, let it sit? If it doesn't, bake it?
If not this, how do you tell when it's ready? It's obvious the clock is more of a guideline than a rule.
You learned a painful but instructive lesson- watch the dough not the clock. To test dough for proofness, just poke it lightly with a finger - about as deep as the first finger joint. If it springs completely back it's underproofed and needs more time. If it springs about halfway back, leaving an indentation that remains, it's ready for the oven. If, however, their is no spring back and the indentation fully remains, then you've probably over-proofed it. In general, err on the side of slightl underproofing if you're unsure. That way you still get good oven spring.
"...by 12 hours it had clearly peaked..."
That already sounds overproofed to me or very close to it.
Maybe it should be shaped before it gets that far, about 3/4 of the way up. Did you do any folds to strenghthen the dough as it was rising? This can be of great help. Also gives you lots of hands on experience with the dough to judge when it's ready for the oven. There should be just a little resistance.
I suspected it was overproofed too. I mixed it together with a few initial stretch and folds at 6 PM with the idea of tending to it first thing in the morning. By 6 AM when I checked on it......too late. Already most of the stretch had gone out of it. Partly due to being wet and gloppy (not enough flour), but it was also over the hill. Despite all that, it still tastes fine...and was a near miss on texture.
A live and learn experience.