Whipping up biscuits that disappear quickly

January 17, 2001|By Rob Kasper

THESE ARE biscuit-baking times. Hot and flaky, fresh from the oven, homemade biscuits can easily be the bright spot of a winter day.

During these dreary months, it does not take much to constitute a highlight. Anything warm is welcome.

Some folks say baking soothes the soul. Maybe so, but a lesser motive moved me to bake a batch of biscuits - hunger.

I had been shut out at supper one night when I tried to get second helpings of the batch of buttermilk biscuits that my wife and older son had whipped up. One minute there were a dozen steaming biscuits sitting in the middle of the dinner table. Yet by the time I had helped myself to some fried chicken and had located the bowl of gravy, the biscuits had suffered a serious assault.

I was able to snag a couple of them. They were light and tangy. But before I could say "gimme more" they were history, devoured by my wife and our two teen-age sons.

So the following night I hurried home from work, started sifting flour, making dust and biscuit dough. This time, instead of the basic buttermilk-biscuit recipe that is found in "Joy of Cooking," I used one that was passed on to me by a colleague at work, Dan Fesperman. It is a variation of a recipe found in the "CafM-i Beaujolais Cookbook," published by the Mendocino, Calif., restaurant.

Rather than buttermilk, this recipe called for whipping cream. Sugar and butter were also ingredients. These biscuits might not make a nutritionist do a cartwheel, but, judging by the list of ingredients, they could do wonders for a person's mental health.

Not every home is stocked with the one cup plus two tablespoons of whipping cream that the recipe calls for. Fortunately, ours was so equipped. The eggnog season has just ended, and there was still a quart of whipping cream - a key ingredient in the yule elixir - left in the refrigerator.

It is my belief that every home in America would be better off if it had a quart of whipping cream in every refrigerator. Cream smoothes out the rough edges of life, tastes so good you want to dance in the kitchen, and, of course, builds strong bones. That is why, every now and then, when I am feeling low and bone-weary, I pour myself a straight shot of whipping cream.

In degree of difficulty, biscuit making ranks pretty low. It does not require dealing with yeast, that unpredictable prima donna of the baking world.

Moreover, you don't have to wait, with your hands folded in prayer, for the dough to rise.

You simply measure ingredients carefully and work the chopped-up butter into the flour mixture. Next, you add the cream, kneading the mixture a few times until you get a dough that resembles more of a loose coalition than a smooth, uniform mass.

Another benefit of biscuit making is it lets you wheel out the rolling pin, the bulldozer of kitchen tools. The rolling pin levels the mountain of dough into a prairie about 1/2 inch thick. Next, you locate a clean kitchen glass with a thin rim, an item that can be rare in a family kitchen, and use the rim to cut circles of dough. The circles of dough are plopped on a baking sheet, then put in a 425-degree oven. About 15 minutes later you have biscuits, about two dozen of them.

This time, I made sure I got a second helping. I made two dozen of the Whipping-Cream Biscuits but only put one dozen on the table, hiding the second dozen in the oven.

This turned out to be a wise move. The first batch of biscuits evaporated shortly after it hit the table. The second serving lasted a little longer, but not much. In between bites, eaters offered opinions. The college boy said he preferred the slightly tart taste of the buttermilk style to the creamy, slightly sweet notes of the whipping-cream style. Nonetheless, he ate half a dozen. His younger brother, who ate more than half a dozen, offered a simpler, but heartfelt expression of praise. "Sweet!" the kid said, and no one disagreed.

Whipping-Cream Biscuits

Makes 2 dozen

2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup chilled butter, diced

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream

Sift flour. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Work butter into dry ingredients, using either fingers or slicing mixture with 2 butter knives.

Pour in half of cream, and work dough with hands; add remaining cream. Knead mixture 9 or 10 times; it will not be smooth.

On floured surface, roll out dough with rolling pin, until dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Using rim of clean glass or a cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough. Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake in preheated 425-degree oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

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