Tall, Soft Biscuits
I first heard my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, as an impressionable 5th grader. My teacher read a few chapters every day after lunch. Her soft, steady voice was like sunlight as she spoke, and while some of my classmates drooped over their desks in boredom, I sat straighter and tilted my face upward.
I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest just about my whole life, and I was enchanted by the Maycomb women’s powdered faces and slow drawls. I easily forgot who and where I was as I listened. Although I knew nothing about the South, I could tangibly feel the stifling Alabama heat and the tangled overgrowth of leaves against my skin as I staked out Boo Radley’s house with Scout, Dill, and Jem.
Even at 10 years old, I recognized that I was experiencing something special. Now at 18 (yeah, 18), I love the way my understanding of the book deepens with each reread. I’m floored by how eloquently and beautifully the story unfolds. But most of all, I never forget how utterly transported I felt the first time I read it – and that’s why it’ll always be my favorite book.
That was only the first time I can remember being completely immersed in emotion.
I vividly recall conducting research for a historical investigation on the Holocaust. I read books cross-legged with my back against the wall. Hours later, I hadn’t moved or taken notes. I didn’t think about how I must have looked, sniffling into the pages. I wandered the silent, towering shelves aimlessly, feeling filled with history, until the library closed.
Another day, I listened to Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Hell-Heaven.” I was riding the bus home, but I couldn’t have told you the time or the year or what kind of shoes I wore. I fell so deeply into the story that I missed my stop. I had to walk an extra half-mile through the hail but I didn’t even care, so long as the words kept flowing through the headphone wires.
I admit that I like being overwhelmed by books, music, articles and movies. I want to be swept away into a strange world made familiar, and I want to experience all the emotions and senses that come with the journey.
Even though there are no words, speeches, or lyrics in the kitchen, it happens with food. Just picture fruit salad, chicken cooked on the grill and dripping ice cream – don’t you feel intensely summery? A slice of almond-pear tart evokes the cobblestone of Paris. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich brings me back to simpler days in the lunch room.
It’s hard to write something that will touch people. I get caught up in word choice, diction, the details that will make the piece surprising and truthful. But ingredients and photographs speak for themselves. Across the country, anyone can slice open an avocado or knead pretzel dough and really feel something. When it comes to cuisine, the story is in you. You use your memories and experiences to create the feeling all on your own.
It’s just one of the many things I find beautiful about baking. Food really is the common thread for people everywhere. Even if you can’t compose a symphony or publish a novel, everyone around you can taste the love, the life and the heritage in your cooking.
These biscuits. I didn’t feel anything unusual when I patted out the dough, cut out the rounds with a glass or brushed the tops with cream. I thought about homework and a couple emails I needed to send while they baked. We had a beautiful breakfast that morning – all fresh-squeezed tangerine juice and tender eggs – but it was nothing special, just a regular weekend morning.
Monday morning, I was at my grumpiest. The shower wouldn’t get hot and I was annoyed. I was irritated by how long it took the biscuit to heat up. But one bite was all it took. Spread with jam, it brought me back to that moment when Dad gave me a good morning hug, and Mom slid potatoes onto my plate, and I thought that nobody could ever ask for anything more.
And possibly, maybe if you make these – you can bring that moment to your kitchen too.
[PS: It was my birthday this week, so I am technically no longer "17 and baking." But don't worry! The blog name, URL, and all the links are staying the same. "18 and Baking" just doesn't have the same ring to it. :) Also, the Canon is broken. I can't take photos while it's getting fixed, but hopefully I can be on time with my next post. Thanks for sticking with me!]
Just thinking about these biscuits brings me back to the Saturday morning I made them… how warm I felt in my cotton pajamas, the creak of the floorboards as the house heated, and the smell of melted butter. I’m hungry again.
The best thing about these biscuits is how tall and soft they are. I refrigerated mine for an hour or two and was shocked at how high they rose in the oven (they’d shrunk by the time I took photos.) I can’t imagine them getting any higher by refrigerating longer, but who knows! As for texture, straight out of the oven the biscuits were softer than cotton. Once cooled, they stayed soft, but I definitely still dream about those fresh-from-the-oven biscuits.
On their own, the biscuits do have a good flavor (ie, butter) but they were even better with a smear of jam, butter, honey, gravy, whatever you like.
My basic biscuit tips: keep everything cold, don’t overmix or overhandle, refrigerate the cut biscuits before baking, and if you like them really really soft, bake them closer together.
Tall, Soft Biscuits
Slightly adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 6 biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoons white sugar
1/3 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk
Heavy whipping cream or melted butter, for brushing
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal – I like to do this by pulsing the dry ingredients and the butter pieces in my food processor. Then I pour in the milk while pulsing until the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl. You can do all this without a machine, it’s just more work.
Pat dough until 1 inch thick (recipe calls for a floured surface, but I didn’t need it.) Cut biscuits with a large cutter or juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until all dough is used. Brush off the excess flour, and place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet. I suggest you refrigerate the biscuits for at least an hour or two, to make them rise higher, but it isn’t necessary.
Brush the tops with the cream or melted butter. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges begin to brown.
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