Baking with Julia is one of the cookbooks I received from my optimistic relatives in the weeks leading up to my wedding. Good news, it's been much used and loved over the last ten years. By far the most used recipe is the one for Baking Powder Biscuits. In fact, if you pull the book from its shelf, it will fall open to the biscuit page, the result of hand-written notes in the margins and a dusting of flour across the text and down in the binding. I've got the recipe memorized, of course, but I like to have the book out anyway. Just in case. I'm no Julia Child, after all. It's just that I can make her biscuits. And now you can, too!
Baking Powder Biscuits
"Among bakers, one hears the expression "She has a good biscuit hand". Like pie crusts, biscuits are a measure of a bakers talents and a pastry in which bakers take particular pride.
"To have a good biscuit hand is to have a light touch and restraint-a biscuit dough is so soft that it invites poking and prodding, kneading and mashing, when it should be barely worked. The golden rule with biscuits is to stop doing whatever you're doing to them two beats before you have to. So when you're rubbing the shortening and flour together and there are still some chubby chunks of shortening-stop. When you're tossing the flour and shortening mixture with the milk and the dough looks only just moistened-stop. And when you turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it just to work it into a mass, count each knead, get to ten-and stop."
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening (68 g butter)
1 cup of milk
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 F (218 C).
(Here I'll just say that Julia's recipe calls for you to grease a 9- by 12-inch baking pan and set it aside. I don't grease mine. There's enough butter in the biscuits to make this an irrelevant step, I think. That said, you might want to try it the "right" way, first!)
Mixing the Dough: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk or stir with a fork to mix. Add the shortening/butter. If you're using shortening, follow Julia's direction to "roll it around in the flour mix to coat it, and break it into 4 or 5 pieces. Rub flour and shortening together with the tips of your fingers, making little crumbs and letting the crumbs fall back into the bowl." If you're using butter, you can cut it into the flour mixture with a hand-held pastry cutter tool. Either way, you'll end up with lots of small buttery crumbs and a few larger pieces. Add milk and stir with a fork to moisten the flour. Don't worry about mixing completely. If you've got "a sticky mass of dough," you're on the right track.
Kneading the Dough: Remember to use your aforementioned "biscuit hands!" Scatter flour across your clean work surface and scoop the dough out of the bowl onto the counter. "Knead the dough ten times--no more, even if its malleable texture tempts you." Listen to Julia; she's serious about this. Pat the dough into a large circle about 9-inches across. Then you can use a "2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter" to cut out your biscuits. I use an overturned glass.
Baking the Biscuits: Move the biscuits to the pan. If you want softer biscuits, push them close together, even allowing them to touch. Placing them apart will make them crispy. If you're butter-happy like Julia (or my mom) you can brush the tops with melted butter before baking. I skip this. Because there is such a thing as too much butter, no matter what Paula Deen says.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden on top. Serve warm.
It's fall. That's why everyone I know has been baking, baking, baking. I do recommend Julia's whole cook book. Some of the recipes are a little ambitious for my taste/capability, but many of them are simple and straightforward. Plus, it's Julia. A brand we all can trust. Happy Biscuits to you all!
Want more of me baking? Who doesn't? The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (October 2013)
It's been a very long day. Sometimes, on days like this, I forget who I am for a second. I forget that I've made promises and commitments, grand predictions about my own future. I forget that I've eaten and what I like to eat and what makes me gag and how certain other foods affect me. If approached at this moment by a butler with a cupful of tapioca resting on a shiny silver tray, I'd probably take it and eat it all. Slurp it all down--damn the texture--and let the spoon clink in the empty glass and wipe my mouth on the back of my arm. I forget that I am mannered.
It's been a long day. All I want to do is sprawl on the couch and weep and laugh and play Scrabble and gossip on the phone with friends and rub my cat's fur the wrong way, then the right way again. I want to wear lint-covered sweats and throw my dangling earrings at the wall. I want my legs to be shaven smooth without my having to walk into the bathroom, strip down, soap up, and do the actual shaving. Then I want to slather myself with all kinds of moisturizing products. Lotion that smells like honey and vanilla. Lip balm that smells like strawberries. Until I am supple. Because at the end of a long day like this one, I feel a million years old, and I forget that I sometimes still possess a youthful exuberance, fearlessness and foolishness.
It's been a truly long day. Who am I again? My kitchen is hidden beneath piles of pans and dishes, crumpled napkins, empty cartons of milk and soda bottles. Dust bunnies swirl into invisible eddies between the bookcases every time I open a door. And we've had to move the hanging laundry inside again because the weather has taken a turn for the cold. I forget that I'm a writer, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister. I forget I'm anything but a shell for a throbbing brain and hands which feel useless in the face of constant, reincarnating mess. I forget that I have a heart. I forget that I have assigned reading which would fill the better part of the next week if I were to go at it non-stop starting now. And that a paper draft is due on Monday. And another is due shortly thereafter. Neither of which are anything currently but a heap of unintelligible notes, anchored by intricate doodles.
It's been a long, long day. I forget that I show up for things on time (most of the time), and often early. That if I have an important appointment coming up at a new place, I'll walk to it days in advance just to make sure I won't get lost when the real day arrives. I forget that I've eaten at McDonald's three times in the last week--always a McChicken and fries. Who is this person? Dark circles under her eyes and dry cuticles and a nose that never fails to rev its engine and run hard at 2 a.m.
It's been a long day.
But somehow my classes got attended. My teachers got the answers they were looking for from me. I invested in new friendships, worked hard, got a new podcast in the can. Somehow. How? I couldn't tell you. I am aching to be five years old again. I am wishing on stars and refusing to pull the bag of scarves and beanies out of storage. I am making burritos for dinner instead of doing the responsible adult thing and preparing something with vegetables. Beans, I forget, don't count. I have forgotten more than I've learned today, I'm sure of it. But time continues to pass, and tomorrow promises not to be quite so full or so long.
Here's hoping that, at the end of the day, I'm back to remembering me.
Journal entry from 20 July 2014:
This morning the wrinkles of our sweatshirts smell like pipe smoke and DEET. We left the hytte at 20:30, slathered in bug spray so that our cheeks shone in the late sunlight. Stopping to watch fish rise in the river--just a slip of dark, shiny head above the sparkling surface, then rings expanding to the shore--we found ourselves surrounded by a cloud of insects.
They hovered and glowed in the light, whirring and bobbing. It took me a moment to realize they were mosquitos. Enormous mosquitos. Their terrifying blood-sucking apparatus long and curved and visible. They appeared more like hummingbirds than insects. Thankfully, the spray kept them at bay.
We walked on up the road to the turnoff just before Rundvatnet, then up another steep fire road to its end. There we found no trail, but our object was the North-facing ride of Ostre Omasvarri (654 m), an understated hunch of a hill in this region of sharp-peaked giants. We turned and wandered in to the forest of birch--widely set from one another and branchlessly white down low, a departure from the forests of our Sierra home--which happens to be excellent for off-trail tramping and bushwhacking.