Biscuits, and other lessons

All good food is soul food. I really believe that. When you have a fine meal at a world-class restaurant, or break bread at your best friend’s house, you know what you should taste? Love.

This is what has always bothered me about making biscuits from scratch: I’d follow the (rather simple) recipe, pop the biscuits in the oven, and out would come yellow, thin wafers that tasted like dust. There was no love to be found. In fact, they tasted a little like anger.

It’s not like biscuits are filled with complicated ingredients — they’re just self-rising flour, a little shortening or butter and some buttermilk or whole milk. You dump/mix everything together, roll out the dough, use a biscuit cutter or a small glass to cut the biscuits, throw them in a hot oven and voila.

Yet, for some reason, the biscuits eluded me. I’d make batch after batch of dusty nonsense and couldn’t understand what was going wrong.

But eventually, I decided to apply some soul.

I put away the rolling pin, took a little more care in mixing the shortening and flour together before I added the buttermilk, and — above all — worked the dough by hand instead of mechanical rote.

Now, kitchen science types would say that by abandoning the rolling pin and working the dough by feel, I no longer was overstretching the gluten in the flour and over-compacting the dough, making it a lot easier for the baking powder in the self-rising flour to do its job. I’d say I had started putting a little love into the dough instead of pulling out a machine to do all of the work.

And the result is fantastic. There really are few things in the world more wonderful than fresh biscuits, and if you taste a little love when you drizzle them with butter or honey or preserves…well, so much the better.

There’s probably a moral lesson here somewhere — but above all, a little bit of soul has led to some mighty fine biscuits. That’s a worthy goal all by itself.

Randy

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