Tall, Soft Biscuits

April 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm 69 comments

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.

Tall, Soft Biscuits

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.

Tall, Soft Biscuits

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.

Tall, Soft Biscuits

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.

Tall, Soft Biscuits

[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!]

Tall, Soft Biscuits

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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Entry filed under: Breads, Breakfast/Brunch. Tags: , , , , .

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69 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Danielle  |  April 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I wish I could jump through the computer screen to get my hands on one of these (little) gems! I’m such a sucker for doughy things and these biscuits certainly fit the bill. I haven’t had a tremendous amount of luck my biscuits rising though, so I’m anxious to try your method of refridgerating first – that is if I can wait that long!

    You are very eloquent in your writing style and it takes the reader there. Keep up the good work!

  • 2. kalliemarie  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    mmmmm those biscuits look divine! nothing better than biscuits and jam in my book :)

  • 3. Penny  |  April 26, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    How old did you say you were again? 18? I don’t believe it. When I was 18, well never mind. You are so talented and this blog is so fun. You suck me in with a beautiful photo, then I get hooked on a wonderful story, and then…oh yeah, the recipe! Keep up the good work.

  • 4. Making my Mark  |  April 27, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Happy Birthday, my friend!

    Flaky, buttery biscuits are a staple here in the south. I smear mine with grape jelly sometimes too. Yum!

  • 5. Bess Seidler  |  April 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    YAY! Another fellow young adult blogger!
    Your work is great, and your pictures come out so well done!
    How do you edit them so nicely?

    I have a blog I just started a couple weeks ago about being in my twenties. You should take a look!


    Great Work Darling!

  • 6. Abbie  |  April 28, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Hi Elissa! I’m a new reader, and I just had to comment on this post :)

    I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird. And I loved reading your thoughts in this post. I’m definitely going to have to be making these biscuits soon – I’ve never found The Perfect Biscuit recipe, and this just might be it!

  • 7. Jayne  |  April 28, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Can I add vanilla beans in and call them Vanilla Beans Scones? I did a batch this morning with a different recipe. very buttery, eggy (in a good way) but I’d love to experiment with more recipes.

  • 8. Kristina  |  May 18, 2010 at 3:26 am

    These look just perfect. My boyfriend is american, and he just loves biscuits, and misses them since we don’t eat them much in Denmark. Maybe I will treat him to them when the weekend comes.

    Thanks for a great blog, Kristina


  • 9. shorty  |  May 27, 2010 at 5:17 am

    I made these biscuits and WOW they are GREAT! My family loved them and believe me I have tried MANY! Thanks so much

  • 10. lennyathena  |  June 16, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    I came across your site on the Prism foundation and I love it. Your writing and your food is amazing, as is the way you relate everything to events in your life.

    By the way, did your fifth grade teacher happen to be Paula Fraser? She read To Kill A Mockingbird to us as well.

    • 11. Elissa  |  June 17, 2010 at 8:49 am

      lennyathena – I had Ms. Gottlieb, but I did have Mrs. Fraser for math in the morning. I heard she’s retiring – she’ll be missed!

  • 12. katrina  |  September 4, 2010 at 2:00 am

    Ahh I always make these but I can never get it to look like a biscuit. It looks more like the asian buns for me, no matter how much I try to shape it. Do you have any tips on how I can fix it? o:

  • 13. “Me Time” = Blog Time « Find Good In Every Day  |  September 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    […] 17 and Baking – Tall, Soft Biscuits (A young talent!  I love her stories and how she relates her creations to the stories.) […]

  • 14. Megan  |  February 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    When I have a spare moment, I like to go into the archives of my favorite blogs and read up, and so I stumbled across this post today and was really struck by your description of the audio of Jhumpa Lahiri, and wanted to hear it. A quick Google search revealed that NPR’s Selected Shorts did a cover of that story…and that I already had it in my iTunes!

    What a wonderful thing the internet is, and thank you for mentioning how this story made you feel–I can’t wait to listen to it on my iPod while I walk around campus!

    • 15. Elissa  |  February 9, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      Megan – That’s where I was listening to the audio, NPR Selected Shorts! I subscribe to the weekly podcast and that was one of my favorite stories ever. Hope you like it!

  • 16. Isabel Kitchen  |  May 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I read “To Kill A Mockingbird” during my freshmen year and also enjoyed the book. The greatest part about reading is being swept into a different world where your worries don’t exist anymore. It is definitely an escape for me.

  • 17. Fluffy maple biscuits « More Quiche, Please  |  January 20, 2012 at 4:30 am

    […] This!     Fluffy maple biscuits Adapted from 17 and Baking Yield: 6-9 […]


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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