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: , , , , .

For the Love of Chocolate-Dipped, Almond-Orange Biscotti Buttermilk Pound Cake

69 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sarah  |  April 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Oh my.

    What you wrote about books really struck a chord in me. I am wholeheartedly and incurably devoted to reading. I must (that would be underlined and bolded if I knew enough internet speech to do it) read for at least an hour every night before I go to bed. Even on nights when I’ve stayed up till one studying for a calculus test, I lie in bed with a book until my eyes are too heavy to keep them open for one second longer. I clearly remember reading To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time. I was nine and at sleepaway camp, where time is already strictly doled out between swim lessons and friendship bracelet making, and I fought for every extra moment so I could keep reading. I’d bring the book with me to the dining hall, read with my flashlight under the covers late into the night. I’d always wanted a brother, and from the moment I met Jem I thought, “This is it. I want to be related to this boy.” I still read that book two (maybe four, depending on how stressed out I allow myself to get) times a year.

    Books work a kind of magic on people. I can’t describe it nearly as eloquently as you did, but books are like secret messages from authors who may have lived five hundred years ago or on the other side of the world. They remind us how much we have in common. They cheer us up, remind us that whatever emotions are tearing us apart are human, and other people feel them too.

    I hope I’m not raving too much. We’re reading the communist manifesto in my philosophy class and Marx is constantly belittling art and so I need an outlet to express my total devotion to the written word. Sorry you’re the victim.

    Also, these biscuits look delicious. Well, everything you make looks delicious (would it scare you if I admitted that I’ve been refreshing this page daily in anticipation of your next post?). But I’m a huge fan of biscuits. Anything with tons of butter and flaky yumminess is a huge hit in my book.

  • 2. Ashley  |  April 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Aw Happy Birthday Elissa!

    I can’t wait to try these biscuits, they look delicious!

  • 3. Denise Rambo  |  April 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Oh Sweetie! The things you do with a camera! The photos of the biscuit with the spoon & jam and the one with the pastry brush in the bowl of cream with the crumbs on the board … the photos themselves are poetic. You never fail to make me smile.

  • 4. Rebecca  |  April 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    I love this post. I vividly remember getting lost in books when I was in school, including To Kill A Mockingbird. It rarely happens anymore, but when I go back to the classics I remember what brought me there. Thanks for putting a smile on my face, and for the delicious looking biscuits.

  • 5. Katy  |  April 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Mmm, I love a good biscuit. :)
    Happy Birthday (again)!

    And I agree about books. I’ve always loved reading. I sort of have what I call a “book addiction” where I can’t drive past a Borders without going in, and I can’t go in without buying something. It’s bad for my wallet, but great for me. Haha. And since I only have one small-ish rather rickety bookshelf in my room (I made it myself in 7th grade shop class, and I am so not a builder..) I just have stacks of books all over the room because they don’t fit in the shelf. :)
    I remember one day that I was in the mini-library at my middle school (the middle and high schools are in one building, and there’s the main library downstairs, but my English teacher ran the “mini library” and had people from her homeroom work as “mini librarians”, and I was one of them) I was sitting in the corner of the little room reading Where the Red Fern Grows, one of my all-time favorite books. I got to the end, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I started crying like I always do, and a kid from my class came in and looked bewildered when he saw that I was crying. Haha. I love good book memories. :)

    Great post, as always.

  • 6. Kerstin  |  April 20, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    What a lovely post. I’m still searching for a good biscuit recipe and will have to try this one :)

    And happy birthday!!

  • 7. Deanna  |  April 20, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I love how food can help cement books in your memory. Some people think I’m insane when I say that but it makes the books so much more vivid for me.

  • 8. Christina  |  April 20, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Have you read Things Fall Apart? It is an excellent book! To Kill a Mockingbird is still one of my favorite books of all time. So sad that Boo is misunderstood. :(

  • 9. Amelia  |  April 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I, too, love getting lost in books :) Reading is probably to me what baking is to you, hah. These biscuits look great! I’ve always loved my mom’s biscuits.

    (Happy Birthday!)

  • 10. Margarita  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Happy belated birthday!!!!!!!!! Yummy, I love soft, flaky, buttery biscuits. Comfort food at it’s finest. It’s a beautiful steel bluish-grey day here and those delicious biscuits and a yummy book would work their magic today to make it a perfect day for me. Thank you for the beauty in your words and photos, always fabulous to read it.

  • 11. Stephanie Elliott  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I have to dis agree with you, Elissa. Both my mother and my husband will attest to the fact that even with all my love poured into it, that’s not what they taste when they eat my cooking :) Thank you for this wonderful entry that warmed an old English teacher’s heart!

  • 12. hannah @ thepastrykook  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    happy birthday!
    i’ve never eaten these before. in fact, the closest i’ve gotten to it is probably a scone. :P
    they look scrumptious though! i can almost taste it

  • 13. Sally  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    This is a very timely post for me, as I JUST made a batch of scones this past weekend and they came out a little less impressive than I had hoped…I think I’ve figured out what I did wrong from your recipe. Next time I shall put your biscuit advice into practice! :D

    Also, I understand fully what you mean. As a writer, I dream of being able to transport people with my words. Maybe the key is remembering in what ways I myself am transported.


  • 14. christine louise  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Happy Birthday!!!

  • 15. skittlesaremydrug  |  April 20, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    These look so yummy! I love what you said about brining back memories. I can’t say that I really remember my feelings on the day of baking something (usually cause I just eat everything the day I make it), but it does bring back memories of other times when I enjoyed the same thing. For instance my Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake is one of my homesick recipes because I used to make it for my mother’s birthday every year when I lived in Australia. I still make it for her birthday but I get the whole thing to myself now :)

  • 16. Ann  |  April 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm


    I came across your blog via the Bloggies and have been reading it since, but this is my first comment. I look forward to your posts filled with beautiful writing and pictures every week, and this week is no exception! Thanks for your wonderful words and insights.

    Hope you had a very happy 18th birthday! :)

  • 17. Baking Monster  |  April 20, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    I love what you said about cuisine is defined by you. I love that! Happy Birthday once again! and I’m going to try these I want a litte slice of southern living.

  • 18. baking&love  |  April 21, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Omg, To Kill a Mockingbird’s my favourite book too! My school studied this for our literature :) I’m not a big fan of biscuit because I find them a little wet for my liking but I would still make them someday at home!! :)

  • 19. Laura  |  April 21, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Hello Elissa!
    I’ve just found your blog!! I like it a lot!!
    I think I’ll try some of your recipes!!
    Take care
    Laura from Italy

  • 20. Sis  |  April 21, 2010 at 4:22 am

    I am a biscuit freak and will definitely give these a try – at the present time, my favorite biscuit recipe is Alton Brown’s and it is delish too.

    A tip from a Southern cook and mom – preheat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet in the oven and place the biscuits in there, touching. There’s no place to go but up, and you’ll get a hugely tall, soft biscuit with a crunchy bottom that splits perfectly for whatever you top it with (honey is awesome on a hot biscuit!).

    Happy birthday last week!

  • 21. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  April 21, 2010 at 5:11 am

    I’m so glad you’ve made a recipe that doesn’t have buttermilk! These look perfect.

    To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book too!

  • 22. Emily  |  April 21, 2010 at 6:22 am

    They look beautiful!

  • 23. Fong  |  April 21, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Hi Elissa, Happy Birthday! These look yummy…are they similar to the ones found at Popeye Fast Food?

    • 24. Elissa  |  April 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      Fong – very similar! Tall, soft, and buttery.

  • 25. Valérie  |  April 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Happy birthday! I look forward to reading you for the year to come!

    Your observations are very true indeed. Words are powerful, but experience and bodily senses take us to a whole other level.

  • 26. Sharlene  |  April 21, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Happy belated, Elissa! These biscuits look perfect in every way. I can’t wait to try them for breakfast this week or next. I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in sixth grade. I was in private school and had heard (? I don’t know how or from whom) about the book so I borrowed it from the library and read it. I had no clue what it meant but I knew I liked it. Reading it again in college was a revelation.

    Great post!

  • 27. Lana  |  April 21, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Gorgeously written! You certainly evoke a sense of wonder and magic with your words… I’ve always maintained that food awakens the senses and reminds us of beautiful moments in life.
    Thank you for sharing this. <3

  • 28. Malin  |  April 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    What a beautiful post! And you’re so right! Food really is whatever feeling or memory it brings to YOU. And that’s what I love about it! If I can’t have happy times, at least I can recreate the feeling of happy times.

  • 29. millysminikitchen  |  April 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I love to read your blog as it inspires me not only in the kitchen, but in my life too. You have a way with words! Happy Birthday by the way, 18 is a good year :)

  • 30. Robin  |  April 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Hey Elissa! I’m glad that there are still people out there who enjoy reading! I’m an English Major, and I just feel like I find less and less people who enjoy sitting down with a good book. As for To Kill a Mockingbird – heh, my boyfriend named his dog Atticus when he first got him. I go, “Oh, I didn’t know you liked the book!” He had NO CLUE what I was talking about! Shame shame shame!!

    Happy belated birthday! I hope it was a great one! I’m off to try these biscuits. :)

  • 31. Molly  |  April 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Happy birthday Elissa! This post made me cry it was so beautifully written! I try to be so efficient and personable that I often ignore my emotions – but when I’m baking, it’s so easy to get lost in the beauty of shiny brownie tops, a perfectly browned pie crust, or the perfect chocolate chip cookie. You are an amazing writer, baker, photographer, and person!

  • 32. Sara  |  April 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!! I love your blog!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 33. Ellen  |  April 21, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    One word: sweet
    Oops, another: eloquent

  • 34. The Scrappy Bug  |  April 21, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I am new to your blog and I am so glad I found it. I just love your writing style. Books have always taken me on a journey. I love that I can run the gambit of emotions in one book. That I can laugh till my side hurts on page 145 and cry my eyes out on page 152. I completely understand your point of view.

  • 35. Fong  |  April 22, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Woohoo…thanks Elissa, I am gonna give it a try.

  • 36. Bec  |  April 22, 2010 at 6:13 am

    I came across your site by chance, and I was immediately drawn in. You have a gift, and you’re sharing it with fans and new-found fans every day. Thank you for making my day.

  • 37. Grace  |  April 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I’m a high school senior too, and yours is the only blog I read religiously, Elissa. :) Though I typically never comment, I have to tell you that To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time!!! =]

    I made your biscotti (from the last post) for my mom’s bday, since they’re her favorite cookie, and I can’t wait to share more of your food (these biscuits!) with my family this weekend! Keep the incredible writing, photography, and recipes!

  • 38. anne  |  April 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I just came across your blog and I must say you are an incredible writer and baker!! I (at a little over 40) am re reading To Kill a Mockinbird right now and it is such a great book< I like it as much as you! Keep up the great work, anne


  • 39. Andi  |  April 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Happy birthday! I wondered what you’d do with the blog name when you turned 18.

  • 40. cupcakeswin=]  |  April 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    happy b-day

    from your nom:)

  • 41. Yun  |  April 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Wonderful photos and story!
    The biscuits look delicious.

  • 42. Hannah  |  April 22, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Oh girl, your writing kills me. You are so talented! These biscuits look terrific.

  • 43. gretta  |  April 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    happy b-day girl!

  • 44. Oscar  |  April 22, 2010 at 8:39 pm


    I like your website very much, I also have a special Chinese food website, and could we exchange website link each other?
    my website is http://www.chinesefoodfans.com/


  • 45. Ben  |  April 23, 2010 at 1:04 am

    I’m no biscuit expert but aren’t these scones? They look identical. None the less they look yummy

    • 46. Elissa  |  April 23, 2010 at 11:55 am

      Hi Ben, these do look a lot like scones but the texture and flavor are different. Scones are crumbly or cakey, crunchy outside and sweet. Biscuits are more buttery than sweet, they can be savory, and they are soft and flakey.

  • 47. Tyra  |  April 24, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Happy Birthday! Love your blog. You are such a beautiful writer…everything just flows so eloquently.

  • 48. Bake: Warm, Soft Biscuits « Seattle Lunchbox  |  April 24, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    […] Warm, Soft Biscuits (Adapted from 17 and Baking) […]

  • 49. Carol  |  April 24, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Happy Birthday, Elissa! I can’t wait to try your biscuits. I made your blackberry jam almond tarts last week and my family and I absolutely loved them. I am in agreement with everyone here who has commented on your writing style. I look forward to what stories and little anecdotes you share just as much as the recipes. Thank you so much!

  • 50. Jess Kehler  |  April 25, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Those look fantastic, I need to find a woman that can bake like you.

    Id be a happy man being served biscuits like that all the time.

  • 51. Kristen  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Happy belated birthday!! Hope you are still around when you are 55 and Baking ;) (Although I’ll be super old by then!)

    I love biscuits and for me they do bring home a flood of memories. Yours look yummy!

  • 52. laq1013  |  April 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    That photo of the jam hitting the biscuit makes me want to crawl through my computer screen and devour it.
    Biscuits + jelly (or honey) are one of my vices. I would eat them until they made me ill – and then probably have one more just for good measure.
    Gorgeous photos. A worthy subject.


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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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