Firstly (and off the titled topic) I am happyified (yes, I am aware that's not a word, but for some reason "pleased" didn't convey the meaning I wanted) to read that you're interested in hearing more from me. Right now I have so many ideas stewing in my head they might suddenly explode into hourly posting, but I will try to ration them out! So, thank you for your vote of confidence (mind you, if you don't like it, you can always remove me from your blogroll/RSS feed/Kindle/print out delivered by your online neighbour).
But now, onto the main topic. Pigling Bland (can I call you that? Should it be Tales of Pigling Bland?) requested more information about the Sourdough. So I shall oblige.
Almost all my information about starting a starter, baking sourdough breads etc came from Sourdough Home, the method I used for starting a starter was this one. However, I am a stubborn, obstinate (hmmm, tautology), proud individual who believes I can generally make things better, so I did do a little fiddling.
For example - instead of starting with half a cup of flour plus a quarter cup of water I started with a half tablespooon and about three-eights of a tablespoon of water (because it was so thick that i could roll it into a ball otherwise!). And I used very cheap, plain, white flour (not even bread flour) from the start, not rye or wholewheat. Mostly because I only had white flour.
The starter should be stirrable but thick - probably equivalent to "ribbon" consistency, or a little thicker - that is, when stirred, a clear track should be left behind which slowly closes up.
It then really does need a lot of love. Warm room. 12 hourly feedings (as long as it is active). And patience. Lots of patience. Do not even think of using it to bake bread unless it is rising on its own - doubling in size between feedings (which you may not always see if it has already collapsed by the time you come to feed it again, but when feeding it should still collapse a little, and you must see plenty of bubbles on the surface). My initial error was trying to make bread with a not-quite-ready starter. My starter also seemed to improve after I fed it, put it in the fridge for 3 days (no feedings during this time) then removed a bit (about half a cup) and fed it up to full size (each feeding used about half the volume of starter in flour - i.e. for half a cup of starter, quarter of a cup of flour and between an eighth and a third of a cup of water to gain consistency described above)
It will smell a little like fresh yeast, or a mild beer, slightly fermented.
My loaf recipe (which I have not posted about yet) was the recipe from The Fabulous Baker Brothers. This produced a lovely loaf, dense, a little sour, but with a good, even texture. I did experience some crust lift off, but this was due to not properly knocking down my dough before shaping. I did not turn the loaf out, but baked it in the tin. I also turned the oven down to 210C and did not add the water, as the crust was breaking teeth when I cooked at 240 and used water.
If you're not interested in Sourdough, I very much doubt you have read this far, but if you have, my apologies for a dull post. I shall tell you about something different next time. Maybe.