Sunday, February 6, 2011

THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT BISCUIT

Biscuits have been on my mind lately.  My newest children's book is about baking biscuits on the Oregon Trail.  Last year, when I researched the book, I felt for those pioneer gals who had to pick the insects out of their flour, collect buffalo chips for their fuel, and cook on an open fire instead of inside a GE oven.

A few cups of flour ago I decided that if those hardy ladies could make a decent biscuit under those circumstances, why couldn't I?Since then, I've made about a dozen batches of biscuits.  A lot of them are now resting on my hips.  It's been an interesting culinary journey, but I think I've had enough, literally.

Lard is out of the question for me—hard to find, very saturated. Shortening makes almost as flaky a biscuit.  Butter makes them more cake-like, but flavorful.  Soft winter wheat flour makes them tender.  I ended up using a famous southern staple—White Lily Self-Rising flour (you can find this at Harris Teeter and Wegmans grocery stores), and half butter, half shortening.  I altered an old family recipe and this is what I ended up with.  I think they are rather nice biscuits—especially with butter and honey.

I recklessly agreed to bake biscuits for a signing I'm doing next Saturday with three wonderful authors,  Jackie Jules, Wendy Shang, and Fred Bowen at One More Page, a nifty new book store in Arlington, VA.  Come by and sample a few.  (These will be mini-biscuits—much more dietetic—ha!)  Oh, and if you don't like biscuits, I hear they are serving cookies!

Crusty Hot Biscuits (revisionist recipe)
2 1/4 cups White Lily Self-Rising flour (or other self-rising flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup composed of half butter, half shortening
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
Combine dry ingredients, whisk until blended.  Cut butter/shortening mixture into flour with knife or pastry blender to make coarse crumbs.  Add milk and egg mixture.  Mix with fork until dough follows fork around the bowl.  Knead gently several times on floured board or pastry cloth (I use floured pastry cloth).
Roll or pat dough to 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut out to desired size.  I used a one inch biscuit cutter for my mini-biscuits.  Bake in a 450-degree oven for 10-12 minutes.



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