Tuesday, February 23, 2010
When Katie Comes Home...and The Biscuit Recipe
Katie came home to the warmth of her circle. We gathered, we cooked and we opened the wine we'd been saving for the occasion. Rodney built a nice fire in the fire pit; faithfully tended by Rodney and Pablo, it radiated warmth and helped close the distance of the past few months. We all missed Adam, the heart of Kate's heart, but there was much comfort to take in each other.
We cooked. Katie made a lovely salad with slices of pear and arugula, and I made the Tahini Dressing, which you may recall was first famed as an offering on the menu of The Cafe Alcazar. It's in a gravy boat (much to my dismay, upon reflection), but trust me - it was all I hoped for when I shared the recipe with you. There was a marvelous pasta salad, there were pot stickers...there was even handmade vegetarian sushi. There was Meyer Lemon Cake with Lavender Cream, and a yummy cake to satisfy our craving for chocolate. I made a vegetarian lasagne and a ham, and baked Cream Biscuits.
The fire was lovingly tended as I mentioned, by Rodney and Pablo, so that it glowed throughout the evening, offering constant warming and underscoring the metaphor of the circle of our friends. (If you're hearing the Whos of Whoville singing "Fa Who Foris", I can't help but laugh with you. But sentimental it was, and sentimental it remains.) The building and maintenance of a good fire is one of the enduring bonds persistently connecting southern men - maybe all men, come to think of it. And whatever: it works. Everybody seems to be nurtured by the fireside, as they are by the comforting food the kitchen turns out.
A fine time was had by all, and I'm certain those of you who were not with us are able to summon a memory of your own, touching on a time when someone you loved came home from a distant place. So the fatted calf is killed (or the portobella mushrooms grilled, as the case may be) and the Ritz is put on, as it were. And as I've been asked more than once for the biscuit recipe, here it is. I take no credit for it; I learned it from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, and author Marion Cunningham credits it to James Beard. As always, I'll describe how I follow the recipe, more or less. If you want to know more about the various ways in which biscuit dough is leavened, go buy Cunningham's book, or Susan Purdy's..I'm sharing my experience, but they're the experts. Cunningham's cookbook describes this recipe as one used by Beard in his cooking classes, valued by his students as the perfect trencher for fresh northwestern berries in the short, beautiful summers. They are, to my mind, as delicious as the famed Angel Biscuits of Ms. Moon but they don't call for yeast, so you handle them somewhat differently.
So...the Cream Biscuits. They're wonderful with ham, if you have to bake one for some occasion or another. They are also, as my people will tell you, perfectly, beautifullly indescribable when they're hot from the oven: split open and drizzled with Tupelo honey. But as possession of the honey jar is always a slightly testy subject here, let me shuffle right along to the biscuit recipe.
In a good-sized mixing bowl, put 2 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur is preferred in my kitchen), 1 tablespoon of baking powder, a teaspon of salt and a pinch of sugar. Note: if you use this recipe for shortcakes in the summer berry season, add more sugar, up to about 2 tablespoons. Don't forget that sugar makes things brown faster. Use your brain.
In between these steps, melt about 6 tablespoons of butter in a large measuring cup and set aside so it can cool off while you finish the biscuits.
Lighten these ingredients with a fork, and add about 1-1/2 cups of cream. I use light cream but to lessen the fat content you could probably use whole milk; in fairness I've never tried it. I can tell you that the science part of biscuit making (as opposed to the art part) dictates that fat is required. In this recipe, you're using cream instead of the "cutting in" of butter or shortening or whatever. If I really wanted to reduce the fat, I'd try that on another occasion before planning to serve the biscuits at a dinner party or whatever.
Mix the dry ingredients and cream together and turn onto a floured board or counter top. The dough should hold together in a round shape; turn out and knead for about a minute. Remind yourself at this point that you're not working with a yeast bread, so overworking the dough is a bad thing. Knead to mix well, but don't overwork. Press the dough into a round or square shape, about 1/4" thick. Cut into biscuits. If you've shaped into a square you can just slice the dough crosswise to create diamond shapes. Dip each biscuit into the melted butter and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. I know, I know. Fat! Butter! OMG! But remember, the butter is only on the outside here and when you taste these you'll know they don't need any more butter.
Anyway, bake at about 425 degrees until they're lightly browned and everyone in your house is drooling. Serve right away, with a ham or some honey, or fresh berries or not one single blessed other thing. Like many of the recipes I've shared with you, this isn't one you make often, but it's surely one you make when your best friend comes home from Africa.