Adventures in Cooking: Biscuits

One of the frustrating things about ending up in New Mexico was the altitude issue when applied to cooking.

All of my Gramma Betsy’s recipes were optimized for sea level, and not all of them translated well to the nosebleed altitude Mister Tea and I live at.1

The two that hurt the most to lose were her biscuit recipe and her never-fail pie crust.  (The pie crust wasn’t lost due to altitude, but it was troublesome enough to bear mentioning.)

I tried altering the recipe utilizing the instructions for high altitude in my Reference for All Things Cooking, but to no avail.

A closeup shot of the top section of a page in a recipe book talking about high altitude baking.

They kept coming out sort of brick-like and refused to rise at all.  As hockey pucks are not things one wants to cover with gravy or fruit or butter and honey and consume…  we had to rely on purchased biscuits for quite some time.

This probably troubled me more than it should have, but when I can, I really prefer to make my own baked goods.  Back when my bodyshell was more functional, I even baked all of our bread, but that ended up being too time consuming.  Homemade bread disappears far more swiftly than even the best standard grocery bread.

There’s only so many loaves one can make in a week.

One particular day, years ago, we were perusing the sale section at a bookstore.  Probably one of the ones that has gone out of business since – Hastings, Borders, possibly Barnes and Noble?  I do not recall the location, exactly, just the piles upon piles of “we want to get rid of these” books.

At the time books were a rarity and a luxury.  There were a thing we saved for.  New releases by favourite authors required time and planning and sacrifice.

(Time and planning is still a thing, but at least I don’t usually have to dip into our grocery budget to feed our minds and imaginations.)

Post-holiday sales, library sales, end of year inventory clearance…  these were the times we could acquire spiffy words.  (For many years they were also where my journals came from.)

From our perspective, there was a lot of chaff in those sorts of piles, but one does occasionally find some gems hidden in the confusing melange.

This particular outing I found one that was fascinating to me.  And it surprised me that it was fascinating.

I love music, but country and I have never really connected particularly well.  I like old blues, I like some of the older more blues than country country, and there are a few songs and a couple artists that I enjoy…  but it has never been one of my genres.

The book was called “Music in the Kitchen” – and it was a compilation of the favourite recipes of a long list of artists – most of them country – most of them people I had never heard of.

However, the style of cooking covered through most of the book was something I had wanted to get more experience with.  Many of Mister Tea’s favourite foods fall into the Southern cooking subset, and it was something I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to.  (Not as actual good food, anyway.  Fast food doesn’t count, and church potlucks are kind of a roulette.)

I was torn.  And a bit weirded by my interest.  Among other things, I knew I would feel the need to listen to the music of the people I’d not heard of prior.  It would seem rude to utilize a recipe without having given the respect of experiencing their art.

Mister Tea ended up making the decision.  “You’re curious enough about it to have lugged it around the entire time we’ve been wandering, and I want proper red beans and rice.”  Not a direct quote, but the gist is definitely there.

This was long enough ago that it was less easy to find anything and everything you were looking for on the internet.  (Admittedly, I’m still cagey about that aspect of the internet, as there is generally a side of tentacle imagery intended to be erotic whenever I do a search that involves images.)

We brought the book home.

I started reading recipes, listening to music, and testing things.

I did find a couple of new creators of music to add to the list of people I wanted on my hard drive, but more importantly…

…  I found some truly delicious food.

And the best of the discovered recipes was one for biscuits.

Unfortunately that particular recipe book is currently in a box in the garage somewhere, so I cannot pull up all of the specifics for you, but the artist was Toni Price.

This is her recipe for ‘Barn Dance Buttercream Biscuits,’ though the instructions are my translation of the process:

2 cups unbleached flour

1 tsp salt

1 T baking powder

2 tsp sugar

1 ½ c heavy cream

1/3 c butter

Preheat oven to 425.

Combine dry ingredients.  Slowly add cream, while stirring.2

Knead for a minute.  Or until you’ve worked the flour in.  Don’t overwork the dough, as it can make the biscuits uncomfortably chewy.  This is one of those “just until mixed” scenarios.

Pat, pull, roll – whatever most amuses you – into a square ½ inch thick.  I tend to approach it sort of like play-dough.  Pulling and stretching and tugging and smooshing and smoothing and…  giggling, often, as I work the dough into the right shape and size.

Cut into however many biscuits of whatever size and shape you desire.  I use kitchen shears3, and my biscuits are always a somewhat motley array.  It may be odd, but I prefer a bit of chaos in my biscuits and cookies.  They always end up with…  character.  You can use a knife, but the dough is kind of sticky, and you may end up with more of a mess than anyone wants to clean up.

Melt some butter, dip the hopeful soon-to-be-biscuits in it before putting them on a baking tray.  I do not suggest melting the whole third cup.  I usually go with 1 T at a time until I have dipped all the biscuits.  First time I made these I ended up with a ton of extra melted butter.  (I think we turned it into honey butter to put on the fresh cooked biscuits.)

These do not actually expand much, so you can place them more closely on the baking sheet than you might expect.  They mostly expand up, rather than out.

Bake for 12-20 minutes.  I start with 12, and then check every couple minutes until they look like proper biscuits.  If you apply a more regular approach to your biscuit size and shape, you may be able to go with the straight fifteen the recipe originally called for.

4 biscuits, on a plate with a white center, the outer edge has a circle of yellow, with blueberries and leaves.

By the time I remembered I wanted photos, we’d eaten most of them. However, this does give an idea of how randomly I approach size and shape.

I was giddy amounts of happy the first time we tested these.  They were proper biscuits, and very tasty.  It is a Willpower check every time they are made, for Mister Tea and I, to give them enough time to cool before the taste testing.  (Because you always check your baked things to make sure they are food as soon after cooking as possible, just to be sure, right?)

Honestly, most of the time we fail that check, but they are still brilliant, even without proper cooling time.

So, here is my go-to biscuit recipe and process.  I hope it turns out to be as useful for someone else as it has been for me.

It was also not the only good recipe I found in the pages of “Music in the Kitchen” – so if you collect cookbooks, I definitely recommend it.

Clean and Basic version of the recipe:

Toni Price's Barndance Buttercream Biscuits

The first biscuit recipe I found that worked properly at high altitude.
Cuisine: American
Keyword: biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 c unbleached flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1/3 c butter

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425.
    Combine dry ingredients. Slowly add cream, while stirring.
    Knead for a minute - or a little longer if needed.
    Turn dough into 1/2 inch square.
    Cut biscuits to preference.  (Intended to be around 12.)
    Bake 12-15 minutes, or until they look right via your preference.
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  1. 5,312 feet.  It has been postulated that Albuquerque, also, should be called a Mile High City.  Living in the nosebleed section does have its benefits, though.  A few years back, my parents took us to Disney World, and we felt invincible!  So.  Much.  Oxygen.
  2. Our most recent attempt at these I finally remembered we had a stand mixer.  And used it.  Wow.  They ARE far more useful than your average kitchen gadget.  Thank you, homepunks, for reminding me of it in your bagel recipe.
  3. Kitchen shears are amazing.  A good pair is one of my recommended make-sure-you-have-a-good-pair kitchen objects.  The level of easier dealing with raw chicken is with them was life-changing in and of itself, and it is far from their only utility.

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