Business Casual: The Biscuit Chronicles
For someone who once considered canned asparagus the equal of fresh – and certainly a lot more convenient, who couldn’t imagine why anyone would make a cake from scratch when there were mixes available, and who didn’t understand why people liked fresh herbs instead of the dried kind that would last for years, I’ve come a long way.
I’m not a bona fide foodie, but I am a great appreciator of good food, well prepared – whether that happens in somebody’s kitchen or somebody’s restaurant. I’m still more comfortable leaving the culinary heavy lifting to others, whom I am happy to supply with wine and compliments. But I’m making progress.
Having been raised by a member of the first wave of the working-outside-the-home moms who embraced the time-saving aspects of frozen food, canned goods and all things instant, and anxious in my younger days to prove that I was not defined by mere kitchen exploits, I was a little late to the good-food party.
I never sank to the depths of a friend who once prepared for her dinner guests a surprise dessert she made from combining instant chocolate and banana pudding mixes. The surprise was that it tasted like those horrid orange peanut-shaped candies many of us recalled from our youth, and no one could get beyond the first bite.
I served my share of bad food with good cheer, but even I grew tired of opening cans and defrosting dinner. Aided by a husband who liked to cook and by good friends who have shared meals and their appreciation of them, I came to see the error of my ways. But I remained a better cheerleader than cook.
Before I got married, my idea of making biscuits was to pop open a can from the grocery store. My husband, however, was a serious biscuit lover who determined that he had better learn how to make his own since he obviously couldn’t expect much from me.
And learn he did. His biscuits were consistently flaky and delicious, golden brown on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside, just what biscuits should be. He experimented a bit – buttermilk, whole milk, a combination. But he always came back to the buttermilk biscuit recipe he saved from the back of a bag of Martha White All-Purpose Flour and taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet where the biscuit ingredients were kept. (White Lily didn’t quite do it for him – and besides, Martha White was a long-time sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry. He loved country music as much as he loved hot biscuits.)
When we went to friends’ houses for dinner or brunch, he would bring along a just-out-of-the-oven batch, still warm. They often were gone before we sat down to the meal.
For a recent gathering of friends who remember my husband and his biscuits with great affection, I decided I would learn to make them and take them to dinner, just like he used to do.
I am not a woman of great patience, but I was determined to do this right. I had his recipe, still taped to the cabinet door. I bought all fresh ingredients – no telling how long the baking powder had been in the kitchen cupboard. I followed the recipe scrupulously, measured everything painstakingly. The butter was cold. I didn’t over-handle the dough. I floured the cutting board. I used a wooden rolling pin. I cut the biscuits out without twisting the biscuit-cutter. I put them in an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees.
The result was disappointing. The biscuits failed to rise. They looked like cookies.
Twice more I tried, with the same results. On my way to the dinner gathering I stopped by the bakery for a baguette, but I took a sampling of the biscuits for a consultation. My friends were kind enough to remind me that biscuits are tough to master. One advised me not to overthink the process. (Who, me?)
So a few days later, I tried again. First batch was a dud, but I tried a second time. I took a deep breath, then another one. I relaxed. I eased off a bit on the rolling pin – and was delighted to see that the biscuits rose to almost-regulation height. I was beginning to get the hang of it.
I’m still not a biscuit master, but I’m working on it.