I've been making sourdough for about six months now fro the same ferment (which seems lively enough). After baking the bread is fine, apart from a lack of consistency regarding the presence of large bubbles.
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Of course the shorter the time between refreshes the more active the starter will be and the more the dough will rise (but generally it will be less sour), but it sounds like you're ok on that front. Apart from that I've found I get a better rise with no punch down before the second prove. I pretty much don't degass at all - ie fold the dough and get tension on the outside but avoid any squashing when you shape.
Then a basic thing of course is to steam the oven - ice cubes/water/spray or whatever - and make sure the oven is hot (I stick mine at it's hottest = around 220C fan) and preheat for 30 mins, which will make sure you get the max oven spring. A baking stone is good too..
Hope that helps, apologies if you know all this already !
I think we need to know a bit more about your methods. Do you knead the dough or simply stretch and fold? What percentage of water to flour (i.e. hydration) do you use?
Many years ago bakers liked a nice, even crumb; too much variation in the size of the bubbles was regarded as a fault. These days - perhaps because of the uniformity of commercial bread - many artisan bakers attempt to achieve a wide variation in the size of hole with plenty of really large ones.
Personally - because I enjoy the process of hand-kneading and like a rather stiff dough - I mix a fairly low hydration dough and knead it for about ten minutes. This produces quite a close, even crumb, which suits me fine. It is my impression that using the stretch-and-fold technique with a very sloppy dough tends to produce larger bubbles with more variation in size,
I knock down my dough quite firmly between bulk fermentation and shaping but lemonjelly's method of gentle handling might also help produce more variety in size of bubble.
The main thing is that you enjoy the taste of the finished product
If your starter is fine, I think a more open crumb may have more to do with technique than starter. The technique of "folding" the dough rather than kneading it means that you are being more gentle with the dough and less degassing happens. Check out the book "Tartine Bread" for a great description of this technique. It uses a high % dough (around 70% +) with a folding knead and gentle shaping. It creates a beautiful open crumb and a rich golden crust.
I agree with Mr P but without more information....Also about hydration, and with Steam. But if you are overproofing or underproofing your bread it can also reduce the bubble size. If you are new to Sourdough the time you need for the final rise depends on a lot of variables ambient temp, amount and freshness of starter..., but is usually longer than commercial yeast bread.
There is a good article on proofing here on this site, I'll see if I can locate it.
Those other ladies & gentlemen are getting too complex. The whole idea is to keep it simple.
2 x ladles of bubbly starter per 500g flour. Add 500mls quite warm water to form sponge. Cover & stand overnight. In morning add 650g flour, 25g sea salt, up to 100mls quite warm water with 50mls oil in it. Mix by hand, knead for 10 mins until strands of gluten tighten, in ball back in bowl, cover. 1 hour later, fold and return to bowl. Repeat twice more. Then shape into whatever you are doing. 600g loaves, 800g batons, 175g boules for soup, cheese, 600g boules etc etc and put, smooth side down, in proving basket or couche cloth or just on a floured surface if your dough stands up. Cover to avoid skinning, leave 1 hour or until double size.Fan oven 250c, baking sheets red hot. Semolina on paddle, turn out dough, flour top, slash, spray with cold water, slap it onto red hot tray. Spray inside oven. 10 mins @ 250; turn oven down to 200 without opening for further 10 mins; 15 mins @ 180 turn trays 180 degrees; take off tray place on wire oven shelf; turn off oven leave for 8-10 mins. Take out on to wire to cool -
"Bob's your uncle"!
It doesn't have to be too holey, it's consistency that counts. If you get a flying crust you've proved too long. Your loaf won't be too sour either. It isn't meant to be. If the starter has small bubbles and looks dead, it is probably bored and may be cold as well. I usually discard 70% in such cases and mix into thick dough with flour and warm water and knead for 5-10 mins until you feel it warming up. Leave for 6-8 hours or overnight covered at room temp and then discard 25% and add some flour and water until thick batter. Put in a tbsp of runny honey and sprinkle some rye flour leave 5-6 hours at room temp or overnight and use in your early bake when the starter is hungry and has large bubbles. As you probably already know, the starter won't work well if you use it after it has just been fed. 4-6 hours later at room temp is best.
It needs to look happy and content and starving hungry.
Steve, Badger Artisan Bakery, South Somerset, England
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