Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mile High Biscuits & Motherhood

At times days creep by in this very full life (especially the last weeks of summer break), yet the years seem to be flying by.  It has dawned on me lately, with my 12 year old son, that  I don’t have many more years with him in my home!!!  Dave and I are potentially nearing the end of being his primary influences.  Oh dear mercy.  This is a hard reality to face. And I can’t imagine life without him in the daily fray.  But I can’t really think about that today.

This reality has caused me to step back and consider what I haven’t yet passed on to my kids that I want to.  I have begun to pray for wisdom to know what they need from me that I can show them or teach them while they are still under my roof. 

I realized one morning when I called out, “Anyone want to make biscuits with me?” and my 10 year old yelled back, “No thanks, Mom!”, that she had never made biscuits with me and I really needed to teach her.  It would be a misstep if she were launched into the world without knowing how to make some of our favorite foods. I decided that instead of a general ask, I needed to pursue her and invite her into the secrets of biscuit making.  I told her I wanted her to come and let me teach her, because it was something I wanted her to know how to do!

She agreed to come and stand beside me and learn how to make from-scratch biscuits. As we did, I had to slow down and become more patient as she took far longer to cut the butter into pieces than my comfortable-with-a-knife-hands are.  She didn’t like the sticky mess that was part of the job.  I realized that this was perhaps one of the reason she had opted out of the task every time.  (These are good moments for life lessons- life is sometimes really messy, but it's often worth the mess to enjoy the finished product.) She wanted to use a spoon, but I told her that I think our hands are our best tools, as they are calibrated and intuitive more than any other kitchen utensil. *(see footnote on this idea) She had to be taught that biscuits must be handled lightly and not pressed down – which is different from the sugar cookie cut outs that she is more familiar with.  I told her it’s like people.  Some people need to be handled more carefully – a truth she knows well.  I told her I would love for her to be the biscuit maker of the house.  She lit up at that suggestion.  We have talked about people’s “signature” dishes that are so fun to discover. I told her that this biscuit recipe is new to me and my favorite yet! We are never too old to learn a new trick.

I have made biscuits of many varieties through the years.  This Cheddar Biscuit is one of my favorites.  But these biscuits are even more magical because of the stacks of flaky, buttery layers. The layers are similar to the scones I love so much from The Bread Bible.  
This recipe for “Mile High Biscuits” is from In Praise of Leftovers.  (I have mentioned this blog before and posted her Blueberry Muffins on the blog that are amazing!) 
Sarah reports in her blog post that people in her life call them “Sarah’s biscuits” but she kindly encourages readers to “call them yours”.

I have told Lainey that these could be “Lainey’s biscuits” if she wanted.

They require quick and careful work but are so simple for the amazing results they yield. (Sarah actually has posted these biscuits twice- once in January 2010 and another time September 2012.  Her instructions are a little different in each as to how to handle the dough.  I recommend you try them both and then find the method that creates the best results for your altitude, oven, and hands!)

borrowed from In Praise of Leftovers
2 cups flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

8 Tbsp. (one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup cold milk + a little more for brushing the tops
Preheat oven to 450˚
Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

Drop butter in and cut in with your fingertips until mixture has pea-sized lumps of cold butter all through it. Do this as quickly as possible so the butter doesn't get too warm.  Pour the cold milk evenly over and mix quickly with a wooden spoon, forming a ball.
Let dough rest for one minute.

Now for the rolling-out part.  This is what gives the biscuits their flaky layers.
  • With a floured rolling pin on a floured surface, roll your ball of dough into a rectangle, about 6" x 11" and about 3/4" thick- though don't roll it too hard. 
  • Turn the rectangle around so you're standing parallel to the long end.  Fold the short ends of the rectangle in toward the middle (like a set of french double doors).
  • Now take the folded rectangle and fold the whole thing down toward you in half.
  • Roll that dough out into a rectangle again about 3/4 inch thick. Cut biscuits.  Take scraps, do the same procedure, and cut biscuits out of that.
Place 1/2" apart on baking sheet.  Brush lightly with milk. 
Bake until golden on top but not burned on the bottom, 10-14 minutes, checking frequently after 10 minutes.

I'm praying to be a good steward of the time I have to teach my children about life and love and God.  I find that oftentimes these moments happen in the kitchen or around the dinner table. 

* In May of 2012, I wrote the following on my blog, and it bears repeating:
In An Everlasting Meal, (which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago), the author Tamar Adler writes about using our senses to assist in cooking. She talks about using your sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing in the kitchen.  She writes, "You must taste and taste.  Taste everything and often.  Taste even if you're scared...

Listen as though you could cook something just by hearing it...

When you touch the food you cook, you develop intelligence in your fingertips.  I cook mostly with my hands:  they're calibrated, by now, to turn things at the right moments, to choose correct amounts of salt."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Sure Thing Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think Chocolate Chip Cookies are always a good idea. I'm a fan.
They are a crowd pleaser- no matter the eater's age, no matter what the occasion, no matter what the menu.  They are classic and delicious.

The chocolate chip cookie recipe I typically use is the one printed on the Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chip bag.  How can you go wrong with that?

(And my other go-to variety, when I want a little twist, is my sister’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie.)

My only struggle with chocolate chip cookies (other than limiting the number of them that I consume) is that it’s hard to use real butter and have consistent results:  in cookies with good body that don’t go flat. And yet I want to use real butter (instead of  Crisco or margarine). 

Recently, my friend Melissa B. shared a chocolate chip cookie with me that she believes is “the one”.  She (like me) loves salty/sweet and so she sprinkles some coarse salt on the scooped dough before baking.  Y-U-M. The texture and body were ideal, and they were just delicious.    She had the recipe written on a card with no source noted.  (She doesn’t remember where she got the recipe so we don't know who to assign credit for it.) I jotted down the recipe and promptly made them the next day.  And about 6 times since! The recipe calls for 1 tsp. baking soda dissolved into 2 tsp. hot water.  We think that must be the trick, along with refrigerating the dough.

I have been trying to name this cookie for the past few weeks (while I make them over and over, and eat them and share them) and I’m so tempted to call them the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But I can't.
If you are on Pinterest and type in “the perfect chocolate chip cookie”, gobs of photos and accompanying recipes pop up.  The truth that I have realized is, what one person calls the perfect chocolate chip cookie is very different from what another person calls perfect.  I have long been searching for the “perfect chocolate chip cookie”.  I have made many recipes that claim to be the best, and what I have discovered is that what constitutes a person’s ideal cookie is very personal.
Perfect cookies can be salty, or chewy or cakey, or crunchy.  Some like them really chocolately, some less chocolately,  some dark,  & some milk chocolate.  Some like cookies dense and some like them airy.  So, to claim these cookies as “the perfect chocolate chip cookies” is really a misnomer!
I think they might need to be called the Consistent Chocolate Chip Cookies or The Sure Thing Cookies or the Steady Chocolate Chip Cookies, or maybe THE Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I've been affectionately calling them the Lovely Chocolate Chip Cookies. They have consistently worked and that is what I want in a cookie recipe!   

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. hot water
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour (I use ½ all-purpose and ½ whole wheat pastry flour)
½ tsp. coarse salt
2 cup chocolate chips
coarse salt to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350˚
Cream butter and sugar.
Add eggs (one at a time).
Stir in vanilla.
Dissolve baking soda with 2 tsp. hot water, then add to batter.
Add flour and salt and chocolate chips.
Mix until fully incorporated.
Refrigerate dough until good and firm (at least an hour).
Roll or scoop into balls.  Space a little apart on cookie sheet.
Sprinkle tops with a little coarse salt.
Bake 10 minutes- or a little longer depending on size – til golden around edges.

Maybe you should try to make them and let me know what you would name them! In the meantime, I'll just keep making them and eating them.