Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baking Class: Chocolate Chess Pie

I'm still playing with pie crust. I didn't feel like putting too much effort into the filling, and I didn't want to go to the grocery store, so I was trying to make do with what I already had on hand. Chess pie is one of the easiest pies to make, and the ingredients are simple and I almost always have them on hand. But I still wanted to do something different, even if it was just one tiny little thing.

I've seen references to a chocolate chess pie, but hard as it is to believe, I've never had one before. I decided it was time to rectify the situation and started looking around for recipes. I mainly wanted to know how much chocolate I should add, and whether or not I had to adjust any of the other ingredients to accommodate it. Since there are as many different recipes for chess pie as there are people making it, I mainly just looked to see if there was a discernible difference between those that had chocolate and those that didn't. I didn't see anything to indicate that I should change any other ingredients, so I simply added 3 tablespoons of cocoa to the mix.

The result was even more spectacular than I had imagined it could be. Not long after I put the pie in the oven the rich, heavy aroma of baking chocolate filled the apartment so I was pretty sure it would have enough of a chocolate flavor, which was one of my concerns. I must admit to peeking into the oven about halfway through. If it was going to be a total disaster I wanted a little warning.

But it looked fine. The only difference I could see was that it was forming a much thicker top crust than I am used to seeing with the regular chess pie. But that seemed like a good thing to me; at least it looked like it would be good. After I looked, it was hard to wait until the pie was done.

And then I had to let it cool before I could taste it. That was some agony, let me tell you. It did fall in the center while it was cooling - that whole round center piece dropped a ways down, but I could see the lovely chocolate-y filling just below it so I was sure it would be just fine.

When it had finally cooled, I cut a piece and grabbed a fork. The top crust was rich and had some of that consistency that a well-baked brownie top will have. The custard was thicker than a regular chess pie, and less sweet with the cocoa, which is not a bad thing in my book. And it was definitely chocolate. And then there was just that little bitty hint of super-sweet chess-pie goodness right at the end.

The crust was not as successful. It was really tough on the bottom. Too tough to cut with a fork. I think that's because I didn't roll it out quite enough the first time so I took it out of the pie pan and rolled it out a little more. They really don't like to be overworked, that's for sure.

But it tasted fine, and there's nothing wrong with picking up a piece of pie and eating it right out of your hand, right?

For the recipe, go here and just add 3 tablespoons of cocoa to the filling.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Navy Bean and Bacon Soup

It's been a while since I broke down a meal for my Cooking on a Budget series. It's not that I haven't been watching my food expenditures. It's more that I've been too lazy to break out the costs. It also occurs to me that I should offer some kind of clarification for how I calculate the costs of my dishes.

I don't factor in the energy costs of my cooking - how much electricity I use on any appliances, or how much gas for the stove and oven. In general, I will use the actual cost of my ingredients, so if I find something on sale I will account for that in my calculations. I do not count spices. I do count oil, butter, and other fats.

So my calculations are casual at best, but I think they are valid enough to give you a general idea of how much it would cost to prepare any of these meals.

Several years ago I made the Navy Bean and Bacon soup from a recipe in the 1980 edition of The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. I have mentioned many times that this is my go-to cookbook, and judging from the reviews there are many people who agree with me. However, if you decide to get yourself a copy make sure it's the 1980 edition. They updated it a few years ago and the newer edition isn't nearly as good as the earlier one.

The soup was excellent, and I always meant to make it again but I never got around to it. But after I found those wonderful Dreymiller and Kray bacon ends I remembered how good this was, and couldn't stop thinking about how good it would be with this bacon.

So I pulled out the recipe and took a look. You cook the beans in 9 cups of water and add chicken bouillon cubes for flavoring. I no longer use such tings, so I thought using some of my home-made vegetable stock might add to the flavor without adding any of the chemicals. And then, when I was at the grocery store, I got the crazy idea of using some apple juice as well. Actually, it wasn't so crazy. I kept thinking of the applewood smoked bacon and it was just a step away to the apple juice when I was trying to think of ways to add flavor to the soup without using the chicken bouillon. The minute I thought of it, I knew it would be a good idea. So I went down the juice aisle and found a decent-looking bottle for a decent price.

And then saw this big old gallon of organic unfiltered apple juice for $4.99 up at the checkout stands. I've never heard of World Pure, and the low price made me a little skeptical, especially since it's certified organic by Oregon Tilth, of whom I had never heard. But the price was right and I figured it wouldn't hurt to take a chance. I turned in my little bottle and grabbed one of the jugs.

I ended up using a mixture of 3 cups of vegetable broth, 4 cups of water, and 2 cups of apple juice. It was a nice balance, but I forgot that apples are acidic, so the skins on the beans stayed a little tough. Next time, I will cook the beans in the water and vegetable stock and then add the apple juice after the beans have cooked and are already tender.

But that is my only complaint. The applewood smoked bacon infused a deep smoky flavor that regular bacon just can't provide. The sweetness of the apple juice enhanced that smokiness, and the vegetable broth tempered the sweetness and kept it from cloying. Except for the slightly tough skins, the beans were tender and hearty. Like most soups, it thickened after the first day, and the flavors intensify the longer it stands.

This is an excellent fall dish, and even on the stovetop is not a lot of work. That smoky bacon smell really warms up the house on a chilly day. And this is another one of those soups that freezes well, so you can freeze half right away and have another meal for another day.

I now have an abundance of apple juice and am coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas for how to use it. It's sweet, with just a little hint of cidery tartness kicking in at the end. Ideas welcome.

The rich, smoky heartiness of this soup makes it feel much more luxurious than it costs to make it.

Total cost: $8.93
Cost per serving: $0.74
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews

Makes 12 servings

1 lb. dry navy beans
4 cups water
3 cups vegetable stock
1 lb. thick-sliced maple or applewood smoked bacon, diced
2 large onions, diced
1/2 cup (about two stalks) celery, with as much leaves as possible
3 bay leaves
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 cups apple juice
1 14.5-oz. can tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
Sort through beans, rinse and cover at least 3 inches over with water. Let soak at least 5 hours, or overnight. Drain the beans and place them in an 8-quart dutch oven or stock pot. Add 4 cups of water and 3 cups of vegetable stock.

Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat until it is well browned. Remove all but 1/4 cup of the fat. Add onion and celery and cook until they are just translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir the mixture into the pot of beans. Add the bay leaves and ground cloves. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for about 1-1/2 hours, until beans are tender.

Add 2 cups of apple juice, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes, until the soup has thickened and the flavors have combined. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Adapted from
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, Edited by Zoe Coulson (Hearst Books, 1980).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scalloped Potatoes

We did not always use recipes when I was growing up. For main dishes, more often than not my mother followed a recipe, but with sides we always pretty much winged it. Most likely, a recipe was used originally, and then the dish was re-created from memory. I do remember a spinach dish for which my mother had found a recipe that involved eggs, sour cream and the oven, which morphed into a stove-top concoction of spinach, eggs, cottage cheese and dried minced onion (a staple in our kitchen).

I had all but forgotten about scalloped potatoes until recently. I don't remember ever having a recipe for those. You just peeled and thinly sliced some potatoes and an onion, layered them out in a shallow baking dish, seasoned with salt (no pepper in our kitchen!), dotted them with margarine (no butter in our kitchen!), sprinkled them with a tablespoon or so of flour, poured in some milk, sprinkled the whole thing with paprika, covered the pan, and baked it in the oven until the potatoes were nice and tender. It was delicious and so easy to prepare.

I don't know why I forgot about them. Or why I remembered them for that matter. Maybe it's because russet potatoes have been on sale for a ridiculously cheap price at the grocery store and I have been buying them frequently, and there are only so many hash browns I can make in a short period of time. Maybe it's the center-cut pork chops I wanted to braise in Shiner Bock beer that were just begging for some potatoes on the side. Maybe it's the cooler weather.

Whatever it was, I'm grateful. These are just as easy to make as I remembered, and they're soft and creamy and go extremely well with any form of meat. I guess I really am just a meat and potatoes gal at heart.

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. Peel and thinly slice 3 to 4 medium-sized russet potatoes. Peel the outer layer off of a medium onion, then cut it in half and thinly slice it. Grease an 8 x 8" baking dish. Layer half of the potatoes and onions on the bottom of the dish. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour over the potatoes and onions, and then dot it with about 2 tablespoons of butter. Cover with the remaining potatoes and onions and season with more salt and pepper. Add about a cup of milk (to come up to about half the height of the potatoes). Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of paprika (sweet smoked Spanish paprika works really well here).

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned and the potatoes are tender.

Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More about Pizza

Ok, call me obsessive - I've made pizza at least once a week ever since I found my perfect pizza crust recipe. I've been mastering the crust and playing around with sauces and toppings, and I have more to report.

The main thing I have learned I got from watching Adam Gertler's show "Will Work for Food" on the Food Network. I would provide a link to their site, but they have loud annoying videos that load automatically, and I will not inflict those on anyone, including myself.

It's not a show I normally watch, but when I saw that he was going to be working with champion pizza thrower Tony Gemignani at Pyzano's Pizzeria I decided to check it out. I thought I might learn a tip or two that would be helpful.

And I did. After they made the dough, they started forming it into balls so they could put them in a refrigerated room overnight. At one point, Tony warned Adam that they should move faster because the dough was starting to rise. That made me sit up and take notice. Every recipe I've seen says to cover the dough and let it rise until it's doubled in size, and then either use it right away or put it in the refrigerator or freezer to save for later use. This was the first I had heard that you might not need to let it rise first.

I knew yeast did not die in the cold (or you wouldn't be able to freeze it), but I didn't know that it would still rise. Apparently, refrigerator temperature isn't enough to stop the rising process, just retard it. A quick google search confirmed that many pizza makers, professional and amateur, actually prefer to let their pizza dough rise slowly in the fridge - the longer rise causes more alcohol to develop, which adds to the flavor. It also improves the texture of the dough.

So a few weeks ago I made up a batch of the dough, divided it in half, and put each ball into a plastic bag (after covering it lightly with flour). I put the bags into the refrigerator and went to bed. The next morning, I woke to two beautiful balls of dough that were about twice the size as when I had put them in. I wanted to take them out and play with them right away, but I had to go to work.

The whole time I was at work, all I could think about were those two beautiful balls of pizza dough just waiting to be made into pizza. I rushed home and pulled one of the bags out and put it on the counter to warm while I prepared the sauce and the toppings. When I was ready to form the crust, I found that it was much easier to manipulate into shape than when I let the dough rise right after mixing it. And the texture of the cooked crust? Crispy and chewy at the same time - pretty near perfect. The next day I cooked up the other dough and it was just as good.

So now, at least once a week I will mix up a batch of pizza dough and throw it in the refrigerator until I am ready to make the pizza. Without the rising time, it takes less than half an hour to throw together, which means I can mix up a batch in the morning and let it rise while I am at work, and by the time I get home it's ready to go.

Here are some of my latest samples:

I used fresh mozzarella on this pie, along with what have become my signature green olives and garlic. Thinly sliced zucchini and corn have also become favorites - corn fresh off the cob adds a crunchy sweetness to this pie.

For the sauce, I sauted a little bit of onion and garlic in olive oil. I seasoned it with salt and pepper to taste, then added a can of tomato puree and dried thyme. I let it cook for about 20 minutes, then let it cool down before putting it on the pizza crust.

I called this my "antipasti" pizza. I roasted an eggplant in the oven, then peeled and mashed it with some balsamic vinegar. I spread it over the pizza just after the sauce and cheese, then added green olives, artichoke hearts, red onions and, of course, garlic. It was tart and salty and smooth and tangy, in a word - delicious.

The other thing I have learned is something I read on a cooking newsgroup. It's not necessary to cook the sauce before you put it on the pizza - it cooks in the oven. So for this pizza I seasoned the sauce and spread it pretty much right out of the can, then sprinkled it with the oregano and basil. I have to say it was just as tasty as the precooked sauce, and cut down on the prep time that much more. I've been making it this way since.

This is the closest I have come to a traditional pizza. I had meant to just use sauce, cheese and pepperoni, but I had sliced the green olives and chopped the garlic before I could stop myself.

This has been my least favorite pizza. I remembered too late that I don't really like pepperoni. But it was still pretty good and I had no trouble getting rid of it.

I haven't really experimented that much with meat toppings, but I love all of the vegetables so much that I'm not missing it at all. Given how much of it I'm eating, I want to keep it as healthful as I can.

Oh, and those slices up at the top? Eggplant with a little bit of the artichoke hearts, red onion and garlic, topped off with pomegranate seeds I had bought for another use but seemed like a good idea. It was - they provided a burst of sweetness that complemented the savory eggplant.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Summer's End: Corn, Zucchini and Red Pepper Saute

Happy Columbus Day to all you Americans out there. It's the first Columbus day I have had as a holiday since I worked for the city and I am enjoying it for all it's worth. I'm feeling lazy on this chilly Monday morning so I am just hanging around the apartment dong nothing.

Summer has ended with a bang and Fall has barely whimpered, and it already feels like winter here in Chicago. The temperature dropped below thirty over the weekend and scarves, mittens and hats were out in full force. It has made for an odd juxtaposition at the grocery store - zucchini, corn and peppers displayed alongside pumpkins, squash and taffy apples. The corn and zucchini are still reasonably priced, so I decided to go one last round with the summer veggies before hunkering down to hearty soups and stews.

I didn't want to go to a lot of trouble, and I wanted to highlight the vegetables themselves so I opted for a simple saute. I diced the zucchini and peppers so they were roughly the same size as the corn. A base of red onion brought together the sweet crisp of corn, the earthy crunch of the zucchini, and the smoky note of red pepper. A little pancetta crisped up and sprinkled on top gives it a little burst of protein and makes for a light, satisfying meal while you are contemplating what kind of stew to make for that first fall meal.

1/4 lb. thinly-sliced pancetta, diced
1/4 red onion, diced
1/3 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob (can used cooked fresh, or frozen)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp freshly chopped herbs, if desired

Cook pancetta over medium heat until crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.

Drain all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pancetta. Add the onions, salt and pepper and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add red pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. Add zucchini and corn and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until all of the vegetables are just soft. (If using cooked or frozen corn, add it last and cook until it's heated through.)

Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. If you are using fresh herbs, add them now. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Dish out the servings. Sprinkle the crisp pancetta over the saute just before serving.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gourmet Gone?

I just read that Conde Nast is closing down Gourmet Magazine in November. I'm in a little bit of shock. I just wrote out my subscription check yesterday. I'm glad I didn't mail it, but still . . .

You can read more about it here.

Kind of seems like the end of an era. I wonder why they decided to keep Bon Appetit and close Gourmet? Gourmet is clearly the better magazine but Bon Appetit is more accessible. Guess I just answered my own question. Maybe Ruth Reichl should have whored herself out more to the Fox and FoodTV reality cooking shows.

Sunday Morning Decadence: Biscuits and Gravy

It's hard to think about buying good quality items when you are on a tight budget. And for me, especially these days, I would rather go without something than compromise on an inferior product.

Bacon is one of those items. I love thick, country-style, maple or applewood smoked bacon. I like it so much better than the commercial brands that I would rather not have it at all than make do with something that I know I will not like half as much. If I am going to eat something that is bad for me, I like to make it as good a quality as I can so I can fully savor the experience, since I rarely let myself indulge in it.

There was a thread that got started in the cooking newsgroup that I will periodically read on biscuits and gravy. This was of great interest to me since I have been making so many biscuits lately and I am a huge fan of biscuits and gravy, although I will not let myself have them very often, and I have never made them. Reading the thread made me decide it was time to rectify that situation, so I started looking for a good pork sausage.

But all I found at the grocery store was a tube of Bob Evans' sausage or fancier brands that offered chicken and apple sausages, or apricot ginger breakfast links, all of which sounded good but were more than I was looking for in a biscuit and gravy breakfast, and I didn't want it badly enough to make an extra trip to a meat market.

I had just about given up on the idea when I noticed some misshapen packages next to the Dreymiller & Kray Maple Smoked extra thickly-sliced bacon last Saturday. I looked closer, and this is what I found:

I had heard of it, but never before seen it. After bacon producers trim the bacon slabs to get all of those nice even slices that they package and sell, there are all kinds of odds and ends left over, which they will put together and sell for a much lower price than those nice attractive evenly sliced packages. This package of ends was about half the price of the regular slices.

I decided to go for biscuits and bacon gravy and threw the package into my shopping cart. When I got home, I opened it up and examined what I had. Most of what was in the package were little bits and pieces, some mostly fat and some mostly meat, that looked like they would be good for flavoring (fat) and topping (meat). The mostly meat pieces also were what I chose to use for making my gravy. There were also a couple of larger, decent-sized pieces that could actually be used as bacon.

I made a fresh batch of biscuits, and then got started on the gravy.

I used the bigger of the mostly-meat pieces. I chopped them into smaller pieces and put them in the skillet to render the fat. They cooked up beautifully, and gave off the most wondrous aroma of smoky maple bacon-y goodness. There is no other smell in the world like it, as I'm sure you know.

I was going to drain off all but about two tablespoons of the bacon fat when the bacon was cooked, but there wasn't that much fat there, I guess because I used the pieces that were mostly meat. There was only about two tablespoons in all, so I just added two tablespoons of flour and cooked it for a minute or two to get rid of the raw flour taste.

I slowly added a cup of cold milk, stirring constantly so as to avoid lumps. I must confess that I did get a lump or two, but after stirring it vigorously I managed to get rid of them. What I have heard is that you should add a cold liquid to a hot roux, and hot liquid to a cold roux. I have had good and bad results with any method I've used, however.

I cooked the gravy, stirring frequently, until it started to thicken and was almost to the consistency I wanted. I turned the heat as low as it would go and let the gravy simmer while I fried my eggs. I would occasionally check the gravy, and if it was starting to get too thick I would add a little bit of milk to thin it out. I think I had to add milk three times in all before I was ready to use it.

I split two biscuits and put them on a plate, and then I spooned the gravy over them. I laid the fried eggs over that, and served them with hash browns. It was one of the best breakfasts I have had in just about forever - actually as good as if not better than any I've ordered in a restaurant. And really not that much trouble. Perfect for a lazy Sunday morning when making breakfast is the most labor-intensive thing you have to do for the day. And I had enough left over for Monday morning's breakfast. The gravy will thicken into a solid blob in the refrigerator; just add more milk, a little at a time, and reheat it back to the desired consistency.

I put the rest of the ends and pieces into several freezer bags and put them in the freezer for later use. I have enough of the meaty bits for another batch of biscuits and gravy, and it is really hard to concentrate on anything else around here for the enticing lure of their siren call.

NOTE: Can be made with bacon or sausage

1/4 to 1/3 lb. bacon pieces, or sausage
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste*

Heat bacon in skillet over medium heat. Cook until well browned and most of the fat has been rendered out of the meat. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the flour and stir constantly for a minute or two. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, still stirring frequently, until the gravy starts to thicken. Once it has reached the desired thickness, serve immediately. If you are not ready to use it immediately, turn the heat as low as it will go and let it simmer, checking frequently and adding a small amount of milk (a tablespoon or so) at a time as needed to thin it out.

The gravy can be stored in the refrigerator but it will get thick and gluey. To reuse, simply reheat it, adding milk in small amounts until it gets back to the desired consistency.

*taste before adding the salt - the bacon or sausage will already be salty.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Baking Class: Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

2/7/10 UPDATE: After recently acquiring some hand-rendered lard, I made a batch of biscuits using it instead of the butter. They were the best so far - still tasty and flaky, and super tender. If you can get hold of some, you should definitely try it. Also, if you use buttermilk instead of milk, the biscuits rise a little higher if you add 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda. Both of these notes have been added to the recipe linked to in the next paragraph.

Since I wrote this post on flaky biscuits. I have learned a thing or two along the way which I think are worth sharing with you. I thought it would also be helpful if I took you through the process one step at a time, so if you had any reservations at all about tackling them you could see how easy they really are. I hope the pictures below will convince you that these are worth making, and making often.

So what have I learned? The most important thing I learned is from when I had some buttermilk in the refrigerator and no idea of how I wanted to use it. I started to wonder what would happen if I simply substituted the buttermilk for the milk in the Tassajara Bread Book recipe.

The result was spectacular. While the recipe is delicious as is, the buttermilk elevated it to something sublime. The minute I tasted it I knew it was how these beauties were meant to be made. The light tang from the buttermilk acts as a flavor enhancer for the rest of the ingredients and takes the flavor to another level. While I would make biscuits with milk again if I did not have any buttermilk around, I plan to never be out of buttermilk again so I don't have to make that sacrifice. It's amazing how that one ingredient can make such a big difference.

What else have I learned? I'm a little chagrined to say that I've learned to cut the biscuits into rounds, rather than just slicing the dough. It is certainly faster to just roll them out and slice them, but as I've been mastering the technique, I've realized that when you slice the knife through the dough rather than cutting straight down with a cutter, it seals the edges so they don't rise, and I ended up with pieces that were higher on one end than the other. Using a cutter, and cutting straight down without twisting, helps the biscuits rise evenly, and higher than they would otherwise.

I did not have a biscuit cutter, but I did have a recycling box that had an empty can of coconut milk in it. Looking at it, I realized it was just about the size I wanted my biscuits to be. I cut out the bottom side with a can opener and voila! - the perfect biscuit cutter. You can see it in the next-to-the-last photo. It works perfectly.

I've also learned to handle the dough as little as possible, to keep the biscuits as tender as possible. It's not like they'll be as tough as shoe leather, but there is definitely a difference if they've been handled too much.

But those things are all easy to accomplish, and the photos below should give you an idea how, if you've never tackled them before. I hope they will encourage you to get busy with the biscuits, because they are a fast, easy, delicious way to start the day.

Full disclosure: You might notice that some of the biscuits shown below seem to be missing the thyme. That's because they don't have any. The photos were taken over two different baking session in order to get the best samples

For the actual recipe, go to this post.

Turn on the oven and set it to 450 deg. F. You want to make sure that the oven is fully heated by the time the biscuits are ready. Next, combine the dry ingredients. What we have in this bowl is flour, baking powder and salt. There is also a teaspoon of dried thyme in there - I was experimenting with herbs, but you don't have to.

After measuring out the ingredients, I took a whisk and mixed them all together, to make sure the baking powder and salt were fully incorporated into the flour.

Next you are ready to add the butter. Actually, I cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces before I do anything else and put them in the refrigerator while I am getting the rest of the ingredients together. You want the butter to be cold, and cutting it warms it up a little. This is not critical, but I've gotten into the habit of starting there and it ensures that the butter is nice and cold by the time I am ready to add it to the flour mixture. Here, as you can see, I've just put it into the bowl. Before I start to cut it into the flour, I will gently coat the pieces with the flour to split them up a little.

I have had a pastry cutter for most of my adult life, and for most of my adult life I never knew exactly what to do with it. I understood the concept - you use it to cut the butter into the flour mixture. But I always just ended up with massive clumps of butter stuck to the solid sides of the cutter instead of blended into the flour.

What was I doing wrong? I'm not sure, because it's fairly straightforward and simple. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I think the main problem was elbow grease. You do have to work the cutter like you mean it, and before you know it you have the butter cut down to size (sorry - couldn't help it) and well blended with the flour. I know some cooks use their fingers and smush (is that a word?) the flour and butter together, and I'm sure that would work just as well.

After the butter has been cut into the flour mixture, you want to make a well in the bottom of the bowl. I try to get the flour mixture as high up the sides of the bowl as I can.

That is why it is good to use a bowl that is the right size for the amount of ingredients you are using. If you use a bowl that is too big, you can't really get the well deep enough to contain the liquid which you are about to pour into it. I do not use my bread bowl to make biscuits - a medium-size bowl works best - I think this bowl would hold about 6 cups.

First you crack the eggs into the well . . .

. . . and then you add the buttermilk. As you can see, the sides of the mixture are still a few inches higher than the liquid in the well. That's what you want. This helps keep the liquid separated from the dry for as long as possible.

Take the whisk and briskly mix the eggs and buttermilk together. You could do this separately in another bowl and just add them already beaten, but why dirty another bowl? Besides, it's fun to watch it come together right there in the bowl.

After the egg and buttermilk are combined, take a big spoon (wooden is best but not necessary) and, starting with the liquid, start combining it with the dry in concentric circles until the flour mixture is just moistened. This is where you want to start being careful how much you work the dough. Once you combine the liquid with the dry, the more you work with it the tougher the flour will become. Once the ingredients have started to come together, I will start folding the dough rather than stirring it.

Using a scraper, I then turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, in this case, my countertop.

The dough will be wet at this point, so you want to make sure you have enough flour on the surface, otherwise it will stick when you start to knead it. And you don't want that, believe me. After you have scraped the dough out of the bowl, cover the top part with a good coating of flour as well. With your hands, lightly knead the dough just a few times, enough to just bring it together. It will still be wet inside, but you want the surface area to be floured enough so that you can start to roll it out.

This is what it looks like when it's ready to roll. It doesn't matter that it's not smooth. You're going to roll it out a few times, and those breaks and cracks in the dough are what's going to help it flake when it rises. The most important thing is that it has enough flour on it that you can roll it without it sticking to the rolling pin.

Notice that the dough is oblong. You are going to roll it into a rectangle, so you want to start with a rectangular shape.
Take a generous pinch of flour in your hands and brush it onto the rolling pin. Roll gently out from the center first on the bottom, and then on the top, always starting in the center and rolling away, until the dough is about 1/2-inch thick.

And here is the first roll. It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but that doesn't matter. It will get better as you go.

After this first rolling, the dough is still pretty wet inside, so you want to be careful when you fold up the ends. Lift up the top third of the dough, being careful to scoop up anything that is stuck to the counter top, and fold it over toward the center, then do the same with the bottom. If necessary (and it probably will be), throw down some more flour on your surface where the top and bottom were.

Here's how it looks after the first fold. Turn the dough a quarter turn, so that the narrow part of the rectangle is facing up and down. Again starting in the middle and rolling out, roll another 1/2-inch rectangle.

Fold it in thirds and turn another quarter turn. Roll it out into a 1/2-inch rectangle once more. This last time, you can also roll it out a little from side to side so all of the sides are even.

This is how it will look after the third roll-out. All of those rolls and folds will make your biscuits nice and flaky. Take a 2 to 3-inch biscuit cutter, or a can with both ends opened, and dip it into some flour. Position the cutter over the dough and push it straight down until it has cut through. Do not twist the cutter or you will toughen the edges and they will not rise. Cutting the dough with a knife will have the same effect. That's why I don't cut my biscuits with a knife anymore. It really does make a difference when you use a biscuit cutter (or a coconut milk can).

After you have cut as many biscuits as you can from the rolled out dough, combine the scraps, kneading as little as possible, and roll them out to a 1/2-inch width, again folding and turning two times. Keep doing this until you run out of dough.

And here they are all cut out and ready to go. Note the three biscuits on the bottom left of the pan. I got tired of rolling out the dough and decided to just shape them with my hands. I was curious to see how they would fare.

And here is the finished product. See how light and flaky they are. You will have to take my word for it that they are quite tender and almost melt in the mouth.

Except for those three hand-rolled biscuits. In this picture they are on the top right. You can see that they didn't rise at all and look more like dinner rolls than biscuits. But they were just as tender and full of flavor, so it was not exactly a tragedy.

And there you have it. The flakiest, tenderest, most mouth-wateringest biscuits you will ever make.
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