Sunday, October 21, 2012

Filling out

Have you ever had a tooth-filling fall out, or a broken tooth?
            When this happens, one’s tongue seems automatically to be attracted to the abnormality in one’s mouth. The sharp bits then seem to become sharper and more disturbing to one’s tongue and daily life – until the dentist can conduct his craft to help.
            This happened to me. A bit of a filling came out, then more. And, of course, my tongue was attracted to the tooth as if by magnetism.
            Now it so happened that I had read in a newspaper article that a jawbone from ancient man that had been lying in a museum for donkey’s years was inspected and found to have a tooth with a beeswax filling.
            So, until I could telephone the dentist in office hours, I went to my supply of beeswax. This I have used since art student days as a medium for painting in oil colour and, as an unexpected bonus, as the best wood polish imaginable. (A block of beeswax is added to boiling water, allowed to dissolve, emulsified with ammonia, and the cold resultant crust lifted from the water’s surface and amalgamated with white spirit.)
            So I cut off a little of the untreated wax from its block, softened it between my fingers, and pressed it into the tooth where the filling had previously resided.
            I was delighted with the result. My tongue returned to its normal usage, ignoring the wax-filled tooth.
            But success was short lived.
            After the first meal the wax had gone down with the food.
            Wax is not hurtful to one’s digestive system. It is consumed whenever honey is eaten with the comb.
            Next, the tooth’s cavity was dried with kitchen paper and more (actually less) wax applied. A closed jaw ensured that the cavity had been filled and the wax pressed in. Surplus wax was scraped away and discarded.
            Night came. In the morning I had no idea which tooth it was that had needed attention.
            After breakfast a ragged tooth edge gave an indication of which tooth had had attention – but the cavity itself remained filled with wax.
            An appointment with the dentist was made.
            So, as an emergency measure, Neolithic man, or whoever and whenever he was, had a cunning plan that worked – as an emergency measure at least. So keep a little lump of beeswax at the ready.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bread, Kneaded with no trouble

Since writing a recipe for No Need to Knead Bread I have been making real, kneaded bread, with the least possible work or trouble. I do not believe that the following recipe could be simpler – even though a lot of instructional words have to be involved. Out of it you will obtain six loaves for well below the price of two commercial loaves – ones that will feel like eating polystyrene after enjoying your own make, and without the cost and trouble of a bread-making machine. (There must be some reason why those who buy bread-making machines often give up on them and revert to buying bread from the shops.) From start to finish it will take you about 3 hours and fifteen minutes to produce six wonderful loaves.
What follows is detail. Put simply is this: Empty a 1½ Kilo packet of flour into a bowl and to it add a pint and a half of sweetened warm water in which some dried yeast has started to “work”. When stirred, this makes a dough. Knead it and put the result into greased bread tins in a warm place to rise. Bake for an hour. Hey-presto, bread.


You will need to have ready for baking six loaves in the oven at the same time:
Six non-stick bread tins
Two 1 ½ kilo packets of strong white bread flour – acquire them from the same source each time for consistency
Two large mixing bowls
Two Pyrex glass measuring jars (you will need to see the half pint and pint measuring lines).
Turmeric (for colour)
Olive oil
Nuts if desired (if so, I use sunflower kernels, acquired from a purveyor of garden bird food)
Yeast (dried)
Butter to rub on the inside of the bread tins
A large wooden spoon for initial stirring
A firm spatula
A sharp knife
A teaspoon
Wire racks or oven shelves

Boil a kettle of water.
Put a small lump of butter to soften in each of the six bread tins.
Empty a 1½ kilo packet of strong white bread flour into each mixing bowl.
Into the flour stir some salt (a teaspoon), and a little turmeric for colour (¼ teaspoon). Stir it well to spread the turmeric evenly throughout.
Rinse sunflower kernels and add ¼ pint of them into each bowl (if desired). Stir them evenly throughout as well.
Use your fingers to coat the inside of bread tins with the butter.
Put a teaspoon of white, granular sugar into each measuring jar.
Pour half a pint of boiling water into each measuring jar (the sugar will dissolve)
Then add cold water to each jar, making one pint of liquid (not measuring in metric makes it easier – for me). Test the temperature of the liquid to be sure that it is good and warm but not too hot (the liquid will cool quickly when added to the flour).
Into each measuring jar put two teaspoons of dried yeast. Whisk it into the sweetened water, continuing to whisk until there are no lumps.
Place jars in the centre of the flour in the bowls, then cover the yeasty liquid with a thin layer of the surrounding flour.
Now is a good time to check the spacing of the oven shelves to see that six bread tins fit in well with space around them, and to warm the oven (say 50 degrees for 10 minutes before turning off the heat).
Now leave the yeast to work. Soon, yeasty bubbles will push up through the layer of flour. Leave for some 15 to 20 minutes as the bubbles grow a bit larger and the yeast becomes livelier.
Deal with one bowl at a time by whisking the yeasty mixture before adding it to the flour in the bowl. Pour this lively mixture slowly and evenly into the flour, stirring with the large wooden spoon as you do so.
Add a dribbling of olive oil.
Now make up half a pint of warm liquid in the measuring jar, using hot and cold water. Add this to the flour mixture. Stir it all together, scraping the sides of the bowl with the firm spatula.
When the mixture starts to become dough, use the fingers to bring it all together. Some flour will almost certainly remain in the bowl after you have lifted the dough out onto an un-flowered surface. Scrape out this residual flour from the bottom and sides of the bowl with the spatula and add it to the dough. Scrape off any dough adhering to the wooden spoon and add it to the mix.
Soak used utensils in cold water as you go along, remembering that you will want some again for the second bowl.
Start to knead the dough (it’s good exercise) by digging the fingers into the far side and pushing into it and away from you with the heels of the hands. The mixture will be a little sticky at first, then stiffen up.
A sausage-shape will form. Fold in the ends of the sausage to form a rough ball.
Keep kneading and folding in until the dough is almost too firm to handle. This will take from 8 – 10 minutes.
Form the dough into an equal diameter sausage shape and cut it into three equal pieces.
Put these measured lumps of dough into the three lightly-buttered tins.
Spread out the dough to take up the base of each tin and, with a sharp knife, cut about five diagonal lines into the surface.
Place the three tins in the upper shelf of the previously warmed oven.
Repeat the process with the other bowl of flour, placing the tins on the lower shelf.
The oven should be warm, but not hot. It might possibly need a short boost of heat.
The dough will rise in the tins over a period of about 1½ to 1 ¾ hours. At about the half way mark put the top tins on the lower shelf and the bottom tins on the top shelf. This will ensure equal rising.
Occasionally open the oven and test the air temperature with your hand. If a little low, turn on the oven heat for a minute or so. But with a modern, well-insulated oven this should not be necessary.
When the dough has risen to become loaf size and about to overflow the tins, start the baking process by raising the oven temperature to 190 degrees for 25 minutes, then five minutes at 200 degrees, and finally down to 80 degrees for half an hour (an hour in all).
Turn out the loaves on to wire racks to cool before eating and/or freezing them. I happen to use disused oven shelves instead of wire racks.
Keep bread tins well clear of water. They should never need to be washed.
Soak utensils as you go in cold water. And when you come to clean them be prepared to throw away the cloth, as dough will stick to it.
Buy your bread flour from the same source. Then, by using exact measures of liquid each time, you will have consistency.