I know what ya mean, artisticat. I just recently found a couple techniques that have really improved my French bread. The one thing, being the proofing box (see my last post for that info) and the second, being making sure there is steam in the oven right before you place the loaves in. I also bake mine on a pizza stone...but you can also use a couple of stone tiles, I've read. If you want....I could send you some sourdough starter (its dried, then pulverized in a coffee grinder). Here's my recipe for sourdough French bread...
Take your starter out of your fridge, feed it with a 1/4 cup of flour and enough water to make it a thick batter consistency. Cover loosely with a towel and let "activate" in a warm place. (Sometimes takes an hour, maybe more). It'll look nice and frothy. Next, make your sponge, which consists of a cup of your active starter, 2 cups flour, 2 cups water. Again, cover and place on counter til it doubles and gets frothy & bubbly. Now...to make the bread....
Remove enough sponge so you have 1 1/2 cups (give or take a little) left in the bowl. (Place extra sponge back in sourdough crock, put back in fridge) To this...add 1 cup potato water (room temp or warmer, if possible), 1/2 cup milk, 4 Tbsp butter melted, 5 cups flour, two teaspoons salt, two Tbsp sugar (or honey, Rapadura, etc). Knead til nice & elastic........place back in bowl (which I smear butter in), cover and allow to rise til doubled or tripled. Now...here's a trick:
IF you want a stronger sourdough taste........allow to rise SEVERAL hours in a cool place. Slow rise equals more sourdough flavor.
IF you want a very very slight sourdough taste.....allow to rise in a warm place.
When bread has risen sufficiently........take it out of bowl, slice into thirds and shape into three logs (I taper them at the end). With a sharp knife, make diagonal slashes in the loaves and dust with flour. Place onto pizza stone or tile and into proofing box. Allow to rise until doubled at least.
Heat oven to 375.....place a cookie sheet under baking rack (usually I put it on the bottom rack). Right before putting the loaves in...I pour a cup of water onto the heated cookie sheet.......Stick the loaves in QUICK and shut the door! Allow to bake for 10 minutes, then lower temp to 350. Bake til golden brown. You may want to mist the loaves with water to get a nice crusty crust.
Now I know its hard to resist hot bread.......but sourdough tastes better if it rests for a day first