Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You Learn Something New Every Day

Did you know you can make your own baking powder?

This week I discovered how easy it is. Two parts cream of tartar, one part baking soda; sift three times; store in dry container away from sunlight. Make small batches; it only keeps about a month.

Apparently some commercial baking powders can have aluminum and other additives in them that can make them taste a bit metallic. And since we make biscuits a lot around here (like, alot alot), it makes sense to make a batch of baking powder to keep on hand.

This morning I made a batch of biscuits using the homemade baking powder for the first time. They were remarkably light. Ethan pronounced them perfect. And there is hardly any higher compliment to this mother than a son who thinks her biscuits perfect.

Speaking of which, have you ever made your own biscuits? You should. It's easy. People are too often intimidated. Don't be.

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup lard or butter
1 cup buttermilk

Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in lard or butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Make a well in the mixture and add buttermilk. Stir just until combined, turn out onto floured surface. Pat to 1/2 inch thickness, and cut out rounds. Bake at 500 for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

(This recipe doubles beautifully, if you're feeding a crowd, or simply a houseful of boys who will also want leftovers for lunch and/or dinner.)

Now, for some notes on technique and such.

1) If you are lucky enough to have White Lily flour at your grocery store, use it. It makes the best, lightest biscuits by far. We don't have it here in Texas, so I have to wait for kind souls (my mother and mother-in-law) to bring me several bags at a time when they visit. It never lasts long. If you don't have White Lily, I've had the next best results with Gold Medal.

2) Make sure the butter and the buttermilk are as cold as they can be. Keep them in the fridge until the minute you're ready to add them.

3) If you don't have buttermilk, you can use regular milk with lemon juice in it. 1Tbsp lemon juice for each cup of milk. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to curdle.
a) Don't use skim buttermilk. I did this in Connecticut against my better judgement simply because it's all they carried in their stores. I finally, after much hunting, found low-fat, which works just fine.

4) I used to use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter, but now I use my fingers. Just work it through your fingers until all the lumps of butter are broken down and mixed in. One less piece of equipment you have to wash when you're done.

5) When cutting out the biscuits, use a cutter with sharp edges (not a glass), press straight down, and don't twist.

6) I'm sure you know not to handle the dough too much, but that doesn't mean you have to be afraid to handle it at all. It's fine, and necessary, to handle it enough to mix it well, and to knead it a couple of times once you turn it out of the bowl, to get everything pulled together as it should be.

7) I bake my biscuits barely touching each other in a jelly roll pan, but they don't have to touch if you don't want them to. I've also had very good luck with cast iron skillets (make sure you preheat it along with the oven).

8) If you have a dog, then when you get to the end and you no longer have enough dough to make another biscuit, pat it into shape and bake it with the rest. Our dog loves having his very own biscuit when it's cooled. Or maybe I'm just an indulgent owner.

9) Don't forget the salt!! I cannot stress this enough, and I speak from unfortunate experience, because I do this frequently, I'm ashamed to say. The salt sits over by the stove, not in the pantry with the rest of the ingredients, so it's all too often overlooked, and we are all sorely disappointed when this happens.

Let me know, if you make them, how they turn out.

Good luck!

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