Okay, bakers, I'm throwing myself on the sword and begging for your help. I baked my first batch of sourdough loaves in years yesterday, and I'm still chewing and choking on the outcome. I used to have an excellent sense of a dough's hydration just with feel, sight, and smell. The silky smoothness and elasticity told me all I needed to know about the gluten development. I would judge the vitality of the starter culture by smell and by bubble formation. I would form the loaves by hand, brush with a little egg wash, proof and bake at 375F.
Having not made sourdough in many years, I decided to make literal use of the most basic recipe in the book that is available on sourdo.com (the place I buy my authentic captured cultures and where I learned how to make the best sourdough you've ever tasted), using KAF Bread Flour. Surely something there would jog my memory and lead me down the path to the excellent sourdough that was once my baking hallmark. None of these milestones occurred. The starter never looked quite right (okay, it was bought 6 years ago and stored dehydrated and sealed under refrigeration) though it bubbled well and smelled perfect. The dough felt heavy and stiff, and never took on that springy feel. The skin never had that elastic sheen that I used to see way long time ago.
The outcome was terrible. The loaves didn't rise as well as expected (understatement). The crust didn't brown even with the thin egg wash applied. I used a decent sized pan of boiling water in the oven for the first 15 minutes of the bake (poor boy's steam injection system). It turns out not to have been necessary because there was absolutely no spring on placing the loaves in the oven.
What came out was a bland, almost flavorless bread that was ridiculously dense with a crumb texture that rivaled some of the finest pound cakes you've ever seen. I'm talkin' super-fine bubble structure. There was nothing close to the open, random structure I usually see in the rustic breads that I throw.
Back in my learning days I did 100% of my kneading by hand. Once I reached the point where I could recognize right answer when shown, i started to let the KA do some of the heavy lifting. I will go back to the basics if you think it will help me to relearn this old skill.
So, wise ones, tell me where I might have gotten off the path. I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on where it is I dropped the ball.
Frustrated baker in Savannah.