After almost 22 years of marriage, my Darling finally agreed with what I’ve been telling her all along: I’m a genius. Not just “a” genius. A “freakin'” genius. She even made it Facebook official, so it must be true. Imagine my surprise. And it came about through the most unlikely of events. But first I need to take you back a few weeks.
“Why don’t you make some homemade biscuits?” she asked on that fateful Saturday morning last month.
I was shocked to hear those words. So shocked that I narrowly avoided blurting out “Who are you? And what have you done with my wife?”
Bread in our household is a touchy subject. Me, I’m pretty non-judgmental. So long as it’s made with flour and some sort of liquid, I’m likely to think it’s just great. The Bouncing Baby Boy is a little more picky, but he’s also pretty tolerant. My Darling, on the other hand, is a discerning bread connoisseur. Over the years, we’ve discovered a few types that she likes. But only a few. And never anything like my mom’s biscuits, which were perfect for soaking up a pat of melted butter and great jam-delivery devices but not really what I would call “light and airy.” In fact, biscuits are so far outside my skills, I haven’t really even tried to make them in years. As I recall, all of my little family turned up their noses at the last batch. Come to think of it, the local wildlife wouldn’t eat them out of the compost pile, either. Under the circumstances, you can understand my confusion.
“Ummm, okaaay,” I said. “Really? Me make biscuits?”
“Sure,” she smiled.
Fortunately, my niece happened to be home from college. She came into the kitchen and started making toast instead. Feeling like I’d dodged a rogue asteroid, I mumbled something like “Why don’t we just have toast today? And I’ll find a good recipe for another time.”
So I did. I scoured the internet and our cookbooks looking for a good, simple recipe. You would be absolutely amazed at how complicated some people can make a simple breakfast quick bread. If any of my ancestors had ever been told it would take an hour or more to make biscuits, they’d STILL be laughing. I settled for rolling my eyes, snorting in derision, and moving on to the next page.
Finally, though, I came across Paula Deen’s fireplace biscuits. They looked promising. Simple and quick, my only concern was figuring out how long to bake them and at what temperature since our oven is notoriously lacking in hot coals. Trial and error is sometimes my friend, but for this I wanted a day when I was the only taste-testing victim in the house.
Then I got distracted, and that’s where I left it.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. Sam and I were home alone and he wanted biscuits. Since there weren’t any store-bought packages in the fridge, I asked if he would be okay with me trying out a new recipe. Poor kid must have been desperate because he agreed to be my guinea pig in figuring out how to do this.
That first batch weren’t too bad. A little dense and somewhat crumbly for my taste, but not too bad. I did figure out that 350° is NOT the same as “hot coals” when they took 25 minutes to cook and never browned. But he pronounced them edible, and I breathed a sigh of relief. In fact, he issued a directive that I was never again to buy the boxed biscuits at the grocery. I tried to share one of my creations with Mary Anne when she got home from work, but sadly, unlike our child, she was not in the mood for my culinary experiments. Ah well.
Then today, after hitting the Downtown Farmer’s Market in the pouring rain, we had breakfast with friends at Rudy’s. There were, as usual, great company, delicious food, wonderful conversation, and a bottomless coffee cup. All my favorites. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to order Sam’s breakfast to take home. Oops.
Luckily, he was cool with biscuits and sausage for lunch. And he asked for the homemade variety. Apparently “never again” in his world really did mean “do not feed me brand-name biscuits in future.” So I set to work, taking the opportunity to make a couple of tweaks to Paula’s recipe. When they came out of the oven, I realized that it really did take no more time to make them by hand. It turns out, the oven takes about 15 minutes to come up to temperature. And it takes about 15 minutes to mix up the dough, cut the biscuits, and drop them on the cooking stone. There is absolutely no time saved by using Pillsbury. Instead, you do save a lot of preservatives and other unhealthy additives. It’s a win-win.
While he was eating lunch, I took the beagle out for his midday walk. When I came back, my Darling was sitting at the table happily munching one of the biscuits. Yes, I said “happily.” She had even posted a photo and update to Facebook. I was more than a little surprised. Amazed even. And very, very pleased.
So, without further ado, here’s how I like to make biscuits these days.
- 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp raw sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup whole milk
Drop butter in the freezer for a half hour or so. It’s even better if you have time to freeze it solid, although this is not absolutely necessary. While the butter is chilling, preheat the oven to 425°-450°F.
In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix well. Working quickly, cut butter into the mixture (I use a grater or a pair of knives), then finish mixing it with your fingers. You don’t want the butter to melt before the biscuits go into the oven. It should be crumbly and look like wet sand.
Add milk and mix until dough forms. If you want to mix with your hand, add milk in stages. You should end up with a relatively smooth dough that is not sticky. On a lightly floured surface, roll or press dough to 1/2 inch thick (more or less) and cut biscuits. Use a biscuit cutter or a small cup. Try not to overwork the dough at this point.
Toss biscuits in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until they are as brown as you like them. Brushing the tops with melted butter might help them to develop good color. That’s my next experiment.
Remove from oven, slather with yet more butter and homemade jelly/jam/preserves.