I've been maintaining my starters not with any set recipe lately, but rather by look, feel and smell. I added a small pinch
of yeast to the crock when I can tell the starter is listless and not responding to any length of fermentation on the counter
or in fridge. The small pinch (1/16th of a teaspoon, maybe even less) really kicks the starter into action. I keep the starter
somewhat goopy but elastic when stirred.
I don't have much luck with a wetter starter, although I have thought
about making it very firm like "old dough" and using a walnut size piece for each loaf, and replenishing the starter
by using more flour than water.
I've drastically altered my hydration of the dough as well as holding off on the
rye flour (pungent brick results, see Trial #3- probably too much rye). I experimented again - two separate boules were made
with approximately 1 cup of starter (goopy) with a combination of white and whole wheat flours and white cornmeal (slight
textural bite) and the bread dough was kneaded until it had the same feel as my usual pain d'ordinaire, baguette doughs.
I've been inclined to go by the feel and look of my dough lately. I think I'm back in the running - they both proofed
beautifully. The bread dough that had been chilled for a short time (1/2 hr) proofed better than the dough that did not get
any refrigeration. When I slashed the chilled boule, the dough sort of *popped* open like a newly opened can of frozen biscuits
:) Also, since I work in a fairly chilly kitchen, I place the proofing colander atop a rack over the oven range that's heated.
This seems to do a great job with the final proof.
As for chafing the boules - I noticed a difference between the
2 boules. The first one I worked somewhat assertively to tighten the boule and ended up with a beautiful exterior, nice crisp
crust, lovely oven spring - but - it was a tight crumb, it didn't quite match the artisanal exterior. Still tasted OK but
somewhat "supermarket" quality. Second boule I treated more tenderly than a baby's bottom and the holes have returned
- somewhat flatter boule and smallish holes, OK flavor - an encouraging and fruitful endeavor. (Unfortunately we ate it all
before we had a chance to snap a shot of it...c'est la vie) I may need to experiment with the 3 levain method for an upcoming
[See supporting comment below.]