Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fishes and Loaves

Saturday was a goof off day, or a busy day depending upon how you look at it. I traveled much of the week before, which seems to take a little more out of me than it used to. Mrs. C was on the road also, in Eastern Oregon working with her staff in Bend.

About mid week, before the fatigue settled into the joints I made an appointment with a fish dealer down in Canby Oregon to look at some fish he had for sale. In this case he had some AAA fish he’d had since last fall that he was looking to move.

Why he still had them I have no idea, they truly are very high quality fish, normally out of my reach. I have bought fish from him before, my normal ‘pond grade’ selections which he usually has a good supply of at very reasonable prices. He’s a straight shooter and he let me know that these fish which I had ‘admired’ some months ago were still available.

By Friday night I was not sure a Saturday road trip was such a good idea, but the prospect of at least looking at some pretty fish was tantalizing. Still I was a little restless so decided that I would put my newly acquired sourdough starter to work. This new strain has the vitality to feed half the sourdoughs in the Yukon given enough flour.

In SD bread, making the really good stuff is a time consuming process. I knew that the ‘normal’ process would not mesh well (at all) with a trip to Oregon and back that would easily consume five or six hours. I’ve wanted to try a few short cuts to see if I could produce top shelf artisan SD bread while cutting out a significant amount of time. This appeared to be a scenario where opportunity meets inspiration which might produce the new Dr Codfish baking hit: Triple S (Simplified Super Sourdough).

The SD starter was a willing accomplice. Almost the minute I mixed up the dough with the starter things started growing. It took off faster than most doughs do. One thing about SD bread; it is as much art as science so if your science project gets a little out of hand it’s not a failure, it’s a Picasso.

By the time Mrs. C got home and I had the kitchen cleaned up it was about 11:00 and I was truly ready to hit the hay. This would represent about 4 to 5 hours of bulk ferment, which is not quite as long as this mix was telling me it needed, but to leave it out over night would be the short cut to disaster. I covered the dough and put it in the refrigerator.

I have learned that this overnight-in-the-refer element is the second most important stop on the road to great SD. Wild yeast takes longer to do its work than commercial yeasts. Like so many modern ‘improvements’ the advantage of making lots of bread quickly comes at the expense of a loaf with more texture to the crumb. Still, it would have benefitted from a longer bulk ferment before going into the cold.

My long tallied alarm cat went off like clockwork about 5:30 am inviting me to join him for an early morning meal of cat food. Normally I just roll over but in this case he got his way and I moved the dough from the refrigerator to the oven to get it back to proofing. This worked well, by the time I got up at 8:00, the dough was ready to punch down and form into loaves which I placed in the bannetons (wicker baskets that are forms for the dough). So far so good. 

The night before Mrs C said she’d like to tag along so we had a loose agreement, (almost a plan) to roll out about 11:00 and as it turned out we were on the road by 11:15 or so.  Again, a plan (such as it is) comes together.  

We were about to Vancouver when the idiot light (in my brain) came on and I said to Mrs. C; “uh oh, I forgot to put those loaves back in the fridge before we left”.

“Do we need to go back?” She asked with just a hint of concern in her voice. This is not one of those exploding bread dough stories, where the dough just keeps growing like the blob, filling the oven, oozing out the sides, flowing across the floor, consuming the cupboards and the cat.

“No” I responded, “It will just over-proof but it won’t overflow the bannetons.”

Recall I mentioned earlier that the overnight thing is the second most important step? Well proofing ‘just right - not too much but just enough’ is THE most important step. More on this saga later. 

It was a beautiful day in Canby. Nicholas was helping another customer when we arrived, (he sees fish customers by appointment, this fish thing being a sideline or hobby business for him) so we had occasion to admire his fantastic collection of fish in the show pond out front. This is a truly pastoral setting, the place is actually a working farm. Nicholas grows and sells Dahlias, wholesale and mail-order retail all over the country. So of course the grounds are impeccably manicured, the courtyard is shady, dappled sunlight filters through the trees falling on the pond. The fish he has in this pond are truly gorgeous and are used to seeing people, they glide languidly through the water to you to beg food.

The fish I had been interested in, Goshiki, were even more striking in person than on his website. I don’t know how the breeders do it but this particular variety have an almost neon like quality to their red spots or Hi (pronounced hee).

Sometimes they are a little muddled with the dark scales showing through and the borders of the hi plates not well defined. These fish however had all the show qualities and few of the defects. I’m not into show fish per se; in fact the proletariat in me displays a certain anti-smugness with my collection of mutts and pond fish. This however was the classic case of a working stiff bedazzled by beauty. The hard part would be deciding which of these fish would take a ride with us. I picked the littlest one, I like bigger but this one had a fantastic pattern.
Mrs. C was really taken with one of the fish in the show pond. It is a black and white fish (Shiro Utsuri) but very sparkly. This characteristic of a diamond like sparkle to the scales is called gin rin. It is a trait breeders can select for. I think of them as normal fish with metal flake paint jobs. Of course the fish in the show pond was not going to be coming home with us but Nicholas had a fingerling that appeared to have promise.

She also noticed another, less flashy Shiro that called to her.

Nicholas offered us a ‘package deal’ so we brought all three home.

When we got home the bread was as I imagined; proofed up to the tops of the bannetons.
To a novice this would look great, you have invested all this time and energy and now you are rewarded with big puffy loaves.

The problem is that if the bread is over-proofed it will most likely fall in the process of slashing and transferring to the hot stone in the oven. Done just right however, the loaves will stand up to the jostling and actually puff up once they hit the hot stone. This is called ‘oven spring’. Can you see that as vividly as I can?

The loaves came out of the bannetons pretty well,

the slashing was the undoing of the oval loaf, the boule however fared better.

More Picasso than bread-two-point-oh, Still, I can’t complain too much. And unlike the failed experiment in the search to cure the common cold, a batch of bread having gone slightly wrong is still, well fresh homemade bread. For a critical analysis; the crust was excellent, not too crusty and just right chewy. The crumb was very uniform,

almost like store bought bread, no big holes, and about perfect for moist. I’m sure the neighbors will be all smiles when I bring bread. I’ll try this again when I am less likely to screw up (whenever that will be) to see how it might turn out with a second rest period.

Oh yes, gratuitous bicycle content here:
Recall I had a problem with my vintage Brooks saddle?  I have come upon someone who says he can fix it! (thanks for the tip Charlie).  He located a replacement frame and the saddle is off the  'saddle maker' for the makeover.  I 'll let you know how that goes.  I should see it back in less than two weeks, about the time the Tournesol should be recovered from surgery.

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