I've finally absorbed the routine of bread-making into the stubbornly erratic fabric of my chores around here, and have been keeping a steady flow of loaves coming so we're never wanting for tangy, crusty goodness at any juncture (and croutons, panzanella, and pappa al pomodoro are now perpetually available given the equally constant presence of hardening heels). It's really a question of practice–not just of the recipe and technique, but of timing so that it integrates seamlessly into normal life.
Another important part has been arriving at the understanding that I am not a normal baker. I use a scale to measure out the ingredients, sure, but the ratios of different flours (white, whole wheat, rye, sometimes triticale or spelt) fluctuate every time. I sort of do it by feel and trust that the result will work because the totals add up. And it does. But exact percentages and exact times for rising are just not things that I care about. My bread is good–very good, recently–and it will get better as I develop more of a feel for it. But as with the hydrocolloids, where initially I measured diligently down to tenths of a gram and now just sort of add what seems like the right amount, the feel is everything for me. Sometimes things don't come out, but they usually do, and if it's worth doing again I tend to improve upon it. Being fully OK with your nature is the biggest part of happiness.
I'm still using Andrew's master recipe, but with modifications. I like to make double loaves, because they turn into gorgeous boules in our larger Dutch oven. They also last a bit longer, meaning that I need to bake roughly every third day. I mix up the flours. And I do a half-assed partial knead and then let the dough sit overnight in our laundry/furnace room until it's all bubbly, rather than his more disciplined method. Then a quick shape and proof on the counter under a dish towel while the oven heats up. I use a timer for the baking, though, since that part definitely matters.
The loaf above was from last week, and this one is from yesterday:
The radial scoring seems to make a big difference, allowing the center to really expand upwards into a beautiful dome. Adding rye seems to make for a more sandwich-friendly loaf with smaller holes. Some friends of ours who also received the same starter and recipe when we did have also modified it into their own unique version, and it's just as good as ours although completely different–almost completely whole-grain, with flax seeds on top (I trick I use sometimes).
Next up, I'm going to start adding things like olives or nuts, and I'm keen to make rolls as well. Despite my carefree, improvisational approach to cooking, I do prefer to master the basics before winging anything. And I finally feel ready to wing.
I've submitted this post to yeastspotting, where they loves them some good bread.