I have discovered one tip about getting a nice shape. I snip the slits with a pair of scissors. When I used a knife I could never get the slits deep enough and the bread would crack down the length of one side, but now they rise nice and evenly, as pictured above!
It's taken me ages to get good at making my own bread. During my previous attempts I would try to convince myself that my hard, weapon like creations were just rustic and crusty. But actually if I swung it at an intruder I would have concussed him or her. No one liked it and we all secretly craved fluffy, white, bowel cancer bread from the shops. So I gave up and left my jar of sourdough leven to go pink and funky in the depths of my fridge. Actually it's still there. Don't tell Ads or I will have to clean it out.
I'm always amazed at how susceptible I am to being inspired by wonderful people. In the case of sourdough breadmaking it took two; my work colleague who would often proudly (and rightly so) show me her beautiful bread at lunch time and another friend who gave me the practicalities of an actual recipe (!) and a fresh jar of leven. The recipe came from gnowfglins and the instructions were really good and clear. She also gave me a sourdough cracker recipe which is something I thought, like puff pastry, would be impossible to make but it turns out it's easy!
Every week or so I feed up my leven, make my dough, let it rise over night (usually), then bake them the next day. I freeze one and eat the other. I love it. I love buying my 12.5kgs of organic flour at the local organic collective and feeding my leven and watching it bubble. I love smelling the leven every time I feed it. I still love taking the tea towel off the bowl after 8 hours and feeling happily surprised at how much it has risen. But the thing I love most of all is putting my fresh, organic, perfectly golden brown loafs in to an old plastic bag that I have used dozens of times before!
Here is my Vacola jar of leven. I like the recipe because it uses lots of leven and I don't waste any. I feel I can afford organic flour because good bought bread costs a bomb, but I must be saving heaps by making my own. Often I add seeds (home grown poppy is my fav!) and do half wholemeal half white which we all seem to like.
Making good bread is one of those things that I just don't know why everyone isn't doing themselves. It's easy, cheap, really good for you, fun, environmentally streets ahead of the bought variety and makes your house smell homely. I feel like such a good housewife when I make bread.