I'm a real beginner - three weeks ago I hadn't baked a sour dough loaf before ;)
I started with the 'Bread Matters' book (the traditional french country loaf recipe) and a starter from the Wild Yeast Bakery, to get me started.
The starter went really well from the beginning (which is why I chickened out of making my own!) and seems to be getting more active and happy every time I use it.
My problem was that my dough was very very sticky and didn't hold its shape at all - the bread was delicious and the crust and crumb seemed good to my inexperienced eye, but the loafs spread in the oven and there was pretty much no oven-spring so they looked like cow-pats!
So.. I read a lot on here and various blogs and modified a few things:
- I left the flour and water to 'autolyse' (if I'm spelling that right) for 20 mins before adding the starter and salt
- I cut the proving time from the recommended five hours to about two
- I watched a bunch of youTube videos and learnt how to shape the loaf properly
- I got a proving basket for my birthday(!)
and it seems to have worked - the loaves taste the same and have the same texture, but the dough is far easier to work with and they look like proper loaves!
I think that the first change is the thing that makes the big difference, I'd be interested to hear if other people agree, but mainly I'm just sharing my happiness!
Thanks so much everyone for all the info on this site, I would have got nowhere without you all.