I maintain two sourdough starters, both at 100% hydration. I feed one with 100% Rye flour and the other with 100% bread flour. If you live in the Berkeley area and would like some starter, please contact me. Otherwise, the Sourdough Preservation Society is an excellent source.
These are all tips and tricks that I've learned while learning how to make bread. These are by no means "must dos", but I've found them helpful in improving my bread.
Feed the starter: I keep my starter in the refrigerator during the week so that I don't have to feed it every day. Before I use the starter, I take let it come up to room temperature before feeding it with equal parts flour and water (typically .5 cup or so --- there's no need to be super exact here). I mix this in and let it sit for at least a few hours before using the starter. Feeding your starter before using it will make the yeast much more effective.
Test the starter: To see if your starter is ready to use, drop a small spoonful of starter into a glass of water. If it floats, then the starter is ready. If not, then you should feed the starter or let it ferment more.
Use your hands: One of the best ways to get better at baking bread is to get to know how dough feels during different stages of its life. If you just put it in a breadmaker (the horror! the horror!) then you are treating bread like a black-box process, which it isn't. Get your hands in there (maybe with a dough scraper) and get to know the dough.
Get a Dutch oven: The best breads I've baked have all been done in a Lodge Dutch oven. Baking bread with the lid on for 15-20 min and then baking with the lid off for 15-20 min (or even longer to get a thick, dark, delicious crust) gives better oven spring and better color.
Let the bread cool: When the bread is done baking, let it cool down before cutting into it! The crackling of the crust as it cools down is one of my favorite sounds. The other reason why you should do this is if you cut into the bread too early, it will be gummy inside and not have as nice a texture. The bread doesn't have to be cold, but wait until it is just above room temperature.
This is a basic sourdough recipe that I have found is very flexible on timings, even good enough for starting in the evening for an overnight proof and baking in the morning. As with most sourdoughs, this one tastes better the longer you leave it to proof, but you can still end up with a delicious bread even if you do not have the time.
Dissolve starter into the water and then mix in the flour. Mix this together until the flour and water are all incorporated and there are no dry spots. Let this sit for 30 minutes to autolyze.
Add the salt, wet your hands, and then work the salt into the dough. When done, you should not be able to feel any more grains of salt in the dough. Let the dough rise until it just about doubles in size: probably 3-4 hours (though I've done it in 2). This is best done at room temperature.
After this initial rise, shape the dough into its final form, making sure to pull the top of the dough taut so that there is some tension. Then, place this dough top-down in a banneton or other shaping vessel (remember to put some flour in there so it doesn't stick) and leave it to rise. This second rise can happen at room temperature for another 5-6 hours, or it can go in the refrigerator for even longer (I've been wanting to try up to 12 or 16 hours).
Let the dough come up to room temperature, then preheat the oven to 500 deg F with the Dutch oven inside. Bake the loaf with the lid on for about 20 minutes, and then lid off for at least 25 minutes, but possibly longer if you want a darker crust.
Before you start, chop up the butter into ~1cm cubes, and then put in the refridgerator until it is cold (maybe 15-20 min). Measure out the water and put it in the fridge as well. This can be done well ahead of time.
Measure out the flour, salt and sugar and mix them in a bowl. Add the cold, cubed butter and use a spoon and your hands to work the butter into the flour. You want to try to end up with little pea-sized bits of butter covered up in flour. My process consists of pushing the butter into the flour, breaking it up with a spoon, and repeating for almost 10 minutes.
Start to add the cold water maybe a tablespoon or so at a time. After every addition of water, use a spoon to start bringing the dough together. You only want to use as much water as necessary. You'll know you're done when the dough is a single blob. Kneed it on a surface for a minute or so.
Flatten dough out into the size of a handburger, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour, but up to 24 hours. Anything longer than a few hours, let it rest in the freezer.
To use, let it come up to almost room temperature, and then roll it out and use as you would any pie crust. My favorite aspect of this recipe is that when it is cooked, the butter pockets melt and create layers in the dough, which makes it very rich and flaky.
I recommend using the weights, but the U.S. measurements should work okay too.
Mix flour and water until they are combined. Let rest for 30 minutes for autolyse.
Then, add 1.5 grams of yeast (.5 tsp) and 9 grams salt (.5 Tbsp). Wet your hands and work these ingredients into the dough. It's not a bad idea to add 1 Tbsp of hot water as well. Use a folding technique on the dough for about 8 minutes until the dough looks smooth.
Now do the bulk rise for 4-5 hours. Fold dough every 15 minutes during the first hour. It's done when it's doubled in size, but waiting the full 5 hours will only improve the bread.
After the bulk rise, shape the dough into a circle and put it in a bread proofing basket (or a bowl with a towl inside). Let it proof for 1.5 - 2 hours. When you press your finger into it, the bread should bounce back. With 30 min or a bit more left, place your dutch oven into the oven with the lid on and preheat the oven to 500F. After the bread is done proofing, sprinkle some flour into the (hot!) dutch oven and dump the dough into the oven. Don't worry if it looks messed up -- a more imperfect loaf on the way in just makes an amazing loaf when it's done.
Cook for 25 min with the lid on, and 15-20 minutes with the lid off. Remove the bread from the dutch oven and let it cool. It's ready to be cut into when you no longer hear the cracks from the bread coolling. Enjoy!