I'm relatively new to the art of sourdough bread baking - have made about 5 loaves. I'm a long time fan of the stuff though and in particular, it's that waxy, moist but light crumb I associate with an artisan loaf that I'm really keen on recreating (if you need a visual ref., see the image at the top of the banner on the right hand side of the main webpage that reads 'make your own starter'. That's the kind of vibe I'm after!). Can anyone shed any light on the processes that go into achieving that result?
Here's the thing: I achieved it. Once. And totally without trying. In fact, I can't even provide a photo of that loaf because so low were my hopes for it, I didn't bother getting all snap happy. When it went into the oven, it was particularly flat. The dough looked so moist that it almost pancaked onto the baking tray. Lo and behold, it was a delicious loaf.
I'm wondering whether it's one of two things: either the success of the 'pancake flat' loaf was due to its increased surface area and reduced thickness, which allowed the heat to really penetrate quickly and form big, chewy bubbles OR, it's the addition of oil that makes the difference.
The loaf pictured below is the one I've just pulled from the oven, which seemed to go off without a hitch but didn't turn out well at all. I forgot to add oil to this dough...
I don't think your problem is oil or lack of it. I think it is more likely due to the preparation and development of your dough. To get the dough structure that you talk about, the first requirement is that the gluten is properly developed but not over worked and broken down. Another factor is the 'energy' that goes into mixing and developing the dough. In general, vigourous kneading by machine or by hand will result in more numerous but smaller holes (finer crumb) than you will get by using a method such as stretch and fold. And finally, higher hydration doughs will give a more open crumb due to the combination of more extensible gluten and an extra contibution from steam in retarding the setting of the starch and increasing the gas volume.
So, first, have a read of the blogs by SourDom by following the link that you refer to. He gives a wealth of good stuff that should prove useful including a good basic recipe (Pane francesa) that is a good one to practice with until you have mastered the basics. Also, have a look at this blog of mine that summarises a technique that I have found to be very reliable.
From what you say about your loaves, it does sound as if you might be over-proving. Whilst, there will be some deflation when the loaf first goes into the oven, the oven spring and strength of the dough should give you a finished loaf with only 'obtuse' angles and not with the 'acute' angles at the edges that you show in your pic. The fairly pale crust is another indication of over-proving although oven temperature is obviously also of significance but without more detail of your baking regime that can't be ruled in or out.
The main message, though, is to stick with it and don't get carried away with looking for 'magic' fixes. Repetition and minor tweaks combined with careful observation will produce that Eureka moment when it just 'works' and from then on the world will be your loaf of bread if not your oyster.
Good luck with your projects.
Thanks Farinam! Amazingly helpful. Do you know where I can pick up a description of the stretch and fold technique?
Basically, my photo blog shows it to you. But what you do is turn the dough out onto the bench and stretch it into a rectangle about the size of an A3 sheet then fold the top long edge in one third, then the bottom long edge up over the double layer to make a triple layer and then do the same with the (now) very narrow edges (except to right and left rather than top and bottom). Return to the bowl. Repeat at hourly intervals for about four cycles. Then shape and prove.
Good luck with your projects.