Food & Drink The quick bread conspiracy 

Everyone loves a warm biscuit and the best are made from scratch, right?

This month we have been bombarded with press releases from Red Lobster, letting us know that September is National Biscuit Month. I'm not thinking of sending anyone a card, but it stirred a lot of biscuit talk in the office and got me thinking about mixing some up.

I have picture-book memories of baking powder biscuits emerging from my grandmother's oven crusty and tender, the tops golden brown and the insides flaky. Light as a feather, they would steam when you broke them open and, even though they didn't need it, were heavenly with sweet butter and a dollop of homemade peach freezer-jam, perfect companions to the salt and baking powder.

Biscuits are a kind of quick bread, a deceptive phrase that makes it seem as though they ought to come together in a snap. I'm sure they do for many, but I've tried dozens of times to make biscuits. Butter, shortening, milk, buttermilk, cream: It makes no difference. Each time I'm certain the dough feels just as soft and springy as a pillow, and each time my biscuits come off the baking sheet squatty, jaundiced, and hard. Better used as a hockey puck than as a gravy mop.

The secret, I'm told is to mix the dough up quickly but with a gentle touch - just put the pastry cutter and rolling pin away and work the shortening into the flour, salt, and baking powder with your fingertips. When the dough is crumbly, pour the milk in all at once, stir until just mixed, knead four or five times, and then push and pat the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick, and cut.

This evening I put that theory to the test and was foiled again: The color was good, the edges were straight, the tops uniform but the dadblasted biscuits were still a 1/2-inch thick. Maybe it's time to consult an expert, I thought.

My grandmother is not only a baker of biscuits, but also of fabulous pies and cookies. During the holidays she bakes six or seven varieties of cookie and ships them off to family members and friends in ornate tins: buckeyes, springerle, rumballs, thumbprints, molasses ... The lady knows how to bake.

Baking Powder Biscuits

Instructions above. Butter and flour a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees.

2 c flour
4 t baking powder
1/2 to 1 t salt, to taste
6 T solid vegetable shortening
3/4 c milk

Grandma, I'm writing about biscuits and I can't bake one to save my life. What's the secret?

Oh honey. Go to the store, get a box of Bisquick, and follow the instructions, and you'll make the best biscuits.

But you used to make them from scratch, right?

When I was first married I used to try - Well, let me tell you (laughs). I've tried them all and Bisquick is the best. You don't believe me, but they're good, really.

I'm serious Grandma; I'm going to put this in the paper.

Oh good. Tell them you consulted a very old, very special family recipe handed down for generations.


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