Monday, August 3, 2009
I’m a big fan of the biscuit to add some substance to a simple/meager meal—they’re quick, and easy to make, and cheap.
I grew up on Bisquick biscuits, which I know some people are snobby about, but my mom makes really good Bisquick biscuits and she makes the best jam in the world so the biscuits are basically just a conduit for jam, it doesn’t much matter what they taste like. You could eat a piece of cardboard with my mom’s jam on it and you’d ask for seconds. (Please note that I am not saying that my mom’s biscuits taste like cardboard. They don’t, they’re really good.)
When I lived in Princeton, my Culinary Institute of America-trained housemate gave me an amazing biscuit recipe from one of her many cookbooks.
Mile High Biscuits
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
2 Tbsp sugar
4-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. In another bowl, combine egg and milk and beat lightly with a fork. Add to flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough.
Turn onto a floured board and knead 15 times. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds and place on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart.
Bake in a preheated 450F oven for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden.
Yield 16 biscuits
This was my standard biscuit for many years. The huge benefit of these biscuits is that they keep well; they’re actually almost better the next day than they are the day they’re made.
I used to take the leftovers into the office and have them during the week and share them with people in the office and I remember once a guy I worked with (Tim Wallace) coming in to ask me a question and saying, “Hey, I came in to talk about those biscuits. I mean the catalog schedule.”
I don’t make them very often any more because even though they hold up, 16 biscuits is more than I want at once, and I value simplicity over taste these days. But sometimes I’ll make them the day before I go on a trip because the leftovers are so good; I take them with me in my nuclear winter bag so I always have something to eat .
On the $1/Day Project, I went with Jiffy biscuits, because it wasn’t cost-effective to get dry milk or flour or baking powder since I was only doing it for 30 days. And the Jiffy biscuits had a lot of good things going for them–they’re light and fluffy and tasty and super easy, and you get a whole lot of them for fifty cents.
So all that was great.
But they’re also really high in sodium (they actually tasted really salty to me, so you know that’s a lot of sodium) and are made with white flour and lard. So they’re even less healthy than the scratch biscuits I usually make, which are nothing to write home about.
I decided to work on my biscuit recipe to see if I could some up with something that was a little more healthy than what I usually eat, but still cheap and easy.
Here’s the recipe I had been making, from More-with-Less:
Makes 18-20 biscuits
Preheat oven to 425F.
Sift together in a bowl:
2 cups sifted flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup shortening
Add all at once, stirring until soft ball is formed:
3/4 cup milk
Turn dough onto floured board; knead lightly 20 to 25 times. Roll or pat dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured biscuit cutter or glass. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake 10-12 mintues. Serve hot. Makes 18-20.
And here’s my new one-person version using butter, which I almost always have, instead of shortening, which requires a special trip to a conventional grocery store and which if I have in the house I am tempted to make cookies with, so I try not to have it in the house:
Really Basic Biscuits
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup white flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (or less)
2 Tbsp butter
enough milk or water to make dough (a little more than 1/3 cup)
[Make as directed for Basic Biscuits above.]
They’re still not exactly health food, but the whole wheat flour adds some fiber and the butter tastes better than margarine or shortening (and no trans-fats) so I think they’re okay.