My Old Dad was an infantryman in World War Two, and he didn’t have an easy time of it. He did start the war off with quite a stroke of luck, though. When his battalion embarked for the Far East he was held back for specialist training. This was fortunate as his battalion landed in Singapore just in time to march off the docks and straight into Japanese captivity. Very few of them came back.
Dad did make it to Burma, where he spent a couple of years fighting the Japs. He was back in Europe by the war’s end, in Germany as a radio operator guiding rocket-firing Typhoons onto targets sometimes only a couple of hundred yards away from his position. He also saw Belsen shortly after it was liberated, and would become very vocal on the subject in later life when that holocaust denier historian chap used to appear on the telly.
Before the war he had been a pastry chef, although he never went back to this profession. But when the fit was upon him, Dad would retire to the kitchen and produce the most spectacular desserts. Tarts, Tarte Tatins, Tortes, Meringues, Macaroons, Madeleines and a thousand and one delicate lattices of sweet pastry supplemented our generally prosaic dinner time fare which, if memory serves, consisted largely of stew, spuds and sprouts.
Dad was a big bloke, hands like shovels and fingers like chipolatas; and to point out the incongruity of his bulk with the delicate and not to say decadent cream-oozing sweetmeats he made was to invite a ding around the napper for cheek, but it was nevertheless a source of quiet amusement in our household.
I drew your attention to the forgoing for a simple reason. Should you ever happen to pop round and find me in the kitchen, my noble countenance gently flushed from the heat of the oven, my lofty brow bedewed with the faintest sheen of perspiration and wearing my comedy cook’s apron which depicts a lady’s body from thighs to shoulders clad only in a bikini, you may reflect upon the fact that better men than you, Sunny Jim, have not scorned to achieve a measure of competence in the culinary arts.
Among the other characteristics which I like to think I inherited from Dad is my ability to cook. Although I haven’t got a sweet tooth and rarely make desserts, I do the bulk of the cooking at home and we eat a balanced and varied diet. I left home when I was quite young and the first thing you learn, apart from how much everything actually costs, is that you can’t survive for long on a diet of baked beans and Chinese take aways.
I started simply. It’s not hard to fry up some mince and boil up some potatoes. Plonk the one on top of t’other in a Pyrex dish, stick it in the oven and call it a Shepherd’s Pie. Lo and behold, you have mastered the three basic methods of cooking: boiling, frying and baking! From here on in the world’s your lobster.
The one thing I never bothered with until recently was making bread, not at all sure why. But a few years ago I was given a bread maker for Christmas, and my interest started from there. Now I bake at least a batch a week. I’m not certain, when everything is taken into consideration, that home baked bread is a particular saving but it’s a nice thing to do and nothing beats warm bread fresh from the oven.
I have chosen the recipe which follows with some care, aware as I am that our readers are comprised predominantly of Alpha Males who stumble blindly through life enveloped in a fug of their own toxic masculinity. But if you try the recipe, and it is very simple, you might find a field of creativity opened which shines a ray of refinement into your otherwise benighted and Neanderthal existences.
The recipe also requires periods where the dough is left alone to develop, allowing you time to abseil down a cliff face under live gunfire, wrestle a grizzly bear or do whatever you wish to reassert your cisgendered identity.
500g bread flour
20g white sugar
1x7g sachet dried yeast
350ml tepid milk
Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, and pour the yeast and salt into opposite sides of the bowl.
If you want the rolls plain, proceed directly to the next step. I normally add in the grated scrag ends of whatever cheeses we’ve got knocking around the fridge, a handful of dried chives, or a few tablespoons of paprika to give the resulting rolls a nice golden colour. Up to you.
You now pour in the tepid milk, and mix in until a wettish dough forms. Add a little more milk if necessary. You now need to leave the dough to rest in a warm place for 30-40 mins.
This will allow you do something manly; such as go out to the shed, fire up the angle grinder and grind out some…well…angles, one assumes. I really have no idea. I have made it into my sixth decade with my full complement of limbs and digits intact, a happy state which I ascribe in no small measure to having never owned or operated an angle grinder. In fact I once heard a piece on Radio 4 about late-in-life amputees, specifically blokes who had lost a limb after retirement. There were four chaps interviewed, and three of them started their stories with ‘I got up that morning, and turned on the angle grinder’. But you’re grown men and you’ll do as you see fit, no doubt.
Feeling better? Still got the regulation issue number of arms and fingers? Splendid! Onwards and upwards, Comrades!
With wet hands, fold the dough over in the bowl starting from one side, then rotate the bowl a quarter turn and fold it over again. Do this until you have made two or three complete rotations of the bowl, and you will see that the dough has acquired a smooth and shiny texture to its surface. Return the bowl to a warm place and leave for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
This will give you enough time to watch one of those Godawful Sylvester Stallone movies that you like so much. Or something with Bruce Willis wearing a vest in it. All monosyllables, explosions and testosterone. How you can sit through that is utterly beyond me.
As a side issue, me and the wife have an agreement where we have each nominated a famous person who, should they appear on our doorstep asking one of us out for a date, the other will stand aside for. The wife has chosen Bruce Willis. And that’s Bruce as he is at this point in time, not as he was when he made his first film.
I’m actually pretty sanguine about this. I figure if old Brucie Bonus shows up at the local boozer looking to call me out, all I’ve got to do is make a quick feint to the left, kick his Zimmer frame out from under him, and hightail it out of the back door by the bogs. I can be scrambling over the wall of the beer garden before he’s had time to gather up all the loose Werthers’ Originals that spilled out of his pockets when he hit the deck.
In further respect of mine and the Wife’s agreement, I feel I may have stymied myself somewhat. I chose Siouxsie out of the Banshees not as she is now, God bless her, but as she was in, say, the ‘Israel’ era. This would involve a complicated backstory whereby she spurned the spotty and gormless youth that I was then, but saw something in my late quinquagenarian incarnation that inspired her to invent a time machine to travel forwards through the decades to be with me. But I digress.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and with wet hands roll it out into a cylindrical shape about a foot or eighteen inches long. Cut in half, then cut each piece in half again and cut each smaller piece in half once more. Wet your hands and roll each piece of dough between your cupped palms until it assumes an approximately round shape, then place on a lightly oiled baking tray and leave to prove for sixty minutes.
Bar performing a haka on the front lawn, I’m all out of suggestions as to how you can occupy yourselves for the next hour. Spot welding, perhaps? A tug of war with a Brahma bull? Whatever you choose to get up to, just try and make it back here in one piece and on time, won’t you? Thank you so very much.
By now the rolls will have expanded, lost their shape and are probably stuck together. Keep your nerve, as what we are aiming for is a rough and rugged appearance once the cobs are baked. We want the sort of bun that, when you take one out of your sandwich box, will look you straight in the eye and say ‘You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, Punk?’ Just sling them in a pre-warmed oven at 200 deg C for twenty minutes, check on them and maybe bung them back in for another five mins.
Hey presto! There we are: proper man buns, mate.
Big. Ballsy. Butch.
© Bobo 2019
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