The Auntie Em’s Cookbook: Recipe #4–Biscuits

Thanksgiving morning, I got up early to make biscuits.

Yes, on a day packed with high calorie dishes like creamed corn and creamed onions, marshmallow sweet potatoes and pumpkin chiffon pie, I decided a fresh, butter-laden baked good would make the perfect healthy-and-balanced breakfast for my family.

Fortunately, I’ve got a biscuit soul mate in Auntie Em’s Cookbook author Terri Wahl. “Is there any food in the world better than a hot, handmade biscuit?” she asks in the recipe’s introduction. “With gravy, or with butter and jam?” No, is the answer, although you could go one better by adding the powerful prepositional phrase “with honey.”

Two nights before, I’d bought what I needed—buttermilk, mostly, since everything else was in the pantry—so it was easy to get to work once I’d slugged down some coffee, fed the cats and preheated the oven to 375 degrees.

I whisked together 4 cups flour—a somewhat stunning amount—4 teaspoons baking powder, a teaspoon of baking soda, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Then I sliced 1 cup of unsalted butter (that doesn’t sound so bad, but in reality translates to two embarrassing STICKS), covered the top of the flour mixture with the tiny squares as if preparing for a round of bingo, and got out my pastry cutter to work all that “fat” into the dry ingredients.

I don’t know why, but referring to butter as “fat” has always grossed me out. Fat is lard bubbling in a pan. Fat is that pale part of a bacon slice. Fat is a spoonful from Grandma’s plastic margarine container of grease by the stove. Butter is, simply,…butter. Pale yellow, slightly sweet, with a bit of tang, and absolutely magical. Maybe I have this aversion to the term because the idea of spreading “fat” on a croissant or muffin is about as appealing as eating a hot dog on a baguette. It’s just wrong.

I worked and worked and worked that pastry cutter until my arm was sore and the mixture crumbly. Then I poured in two cups of buttermilk and stirred twice.

OK, I stirred a few more times than that, but I was extremely careful not to over-mix, since that’s a big no-no in the world of biscuit making (stir too much and you’ll get a tough biscuit say the pros). This can feel strange to those of us who like to make sure everything is combined and then some. But it’s a good habit to cultivate when making biscuits from scratch. Essentially, you want the dough to start pulling away from the sides of the bowl—that means the ingredients are starting to stick together—without becoming a perfect clean lump in the center of a perfectly clean bowl.

Next, I dumped the mostly mixed dough on to a pasty mat I’d dusted with flour. I kneaded the dough just a few times before patting it into a circle about an inch-and-a-half thick. I used a pink cookie cutter left over from Easter to cut out vaguely egg-shaped biscuits, arranged them on a baking sheet, and painted the tops with a little extra buttermilk. I slipped the sheet into the oven to bake for about 20 minutes, and then carefully re-kneaded and re-patted the dough cuttings into a new circle and cut the remaining biscuit eggs.

The results: Jon and Roxy slowly slipped into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and holiday happy, as I grabbed jams and spreads from the fridge, poured coffee and milk, and heated veggie sausage links.

“Those smell amazing!” said Roxy, arranging herself on the chair across from me at the kitchen island.

I pulled the baking sheet out of the oven and put a pale, toasted, puffy biscuit onto each of our plates and passed them out.

Simply put, these biscuits are the best I’ve ever made. They ROCK. They smell amazing—toasted and buttery and cozy. They look delicious—puffy without being ridiculous, golden and layered. And the taste: absolutely perfect. I slathered my first half with pluot jam—heavenly!—and the second half with obsidian blackberry jam—divine! The contrast of tart fruity spread with buttery hot dough was absolute perfection.

“What makes these so good,” asked Jon, as he picked up crumbs with a fingertip from his plate.

“I was really careful not to over-knead the dough,” I said proudly.

“And you didn’t make them too thin.” Yes, that, too.

I also think that painting the biscuit tops with the rest of the buttermilk adds that little professional touch that makes these look restaurant-worthy, but taste homemade.

Terri suggests playing Andre Williams’s song “Pass the Biscuits, Please” while eating these little wonders. I completely forgot to do that so I will clearly have to make them again soon to test out the music/food pairing.

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