Monday, January 24, 2011
Perfect Tea Biscuits
If you've ever had a meal at Red Lobster, you'll understand what I am about to discuss. Their tea biscuits are the best!
Tea biscuits add a certain something to any meal and they are so simple to make. They are great with soup or stew, or just by themselves with Cheez Whiz (yes that is about processed cheese's only desirable function in my humble opinion) or slathered with jam.
Mom taught me how to make tea biscuits,although mine are rarely as light and fluffy as her creations were. It is a tried and true recipe, found in her old Purity Cookbook, copyright 1932. My particular revision is from 1945. I'm assuming it may have been a wedding gift for Mom in 1947. Below is a picture of the open pages with the tea biscuit recipe. It is just about as stained as the pages for Chocolate Cake.
The funny thing is that the book just about falls open at this spot on its own; the binding is definitely cracked between pages 24 and 25.
So there are just five simple ingredients, and yes even the most minimally stocked kitchen should have them all. I see in the margin of the book, some childish handwriting, doubling the given amount for each ingredient. I'm not sure whether it was my writing from years ago, or one of my daughters (although they have only tried the recipe a time or two, more on that to follow).
The recipe, as transcribed straight from the text:
2 cups sifted Purity Flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons shortening
2/3 cup milk
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening with a knife or pastry blender until mixture resembles fine cornmeal.
Add milk to make a soft dough (do not over-mix).
Turn dough on to lightly floured board and knead slightly. Roll 1/2-1/4 inch thick and cut with a floured cutter.
Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet, 1 - 1 1/2 inches apart if crusty biscuits are desired, otherwise no space need be allowed. Bake in a hot oven (425 - 450 F) for 10-15 minutes.
So there you have it the purist Purity version.
However I've done a lot of deviations over time; most have been successful.
For example, the batch I photographed for this blog, I used whole wheat flour. You may need a couple tablespoons more milk to moisten whole wheat properly.
Baking powder, I usually tend to be on the generous side. Four heaping teaspoons will make them lighter and fluffier. My daughter wanted to learn how to make tea biscuits, so I volunteered to teach her. However, one should never assume anything with a young cook. I was obviously distracted doing something else when she added the leavening. Her biscuits looked fine coming out of the oven, but the first bite was not so great. She had substituted baking soda for baking powder -- most definitely a no-no! The chickens enjoyed that particular batch.
Shortening, I rarely use. I prefer margarine. Make sure you cut it into the flour/BP/salt mixture thoroughly with a pastry cutter before you add the milk. Always err to the generous side when adding margarine.
Milk must be added all at once, the dough mixed quickly and just until it holds together. Over-mixing is what makes a hard, tough biscuit.
Roll the dough out on the floured counter. The dough should be soft and a bit sticky. Toss a bit of flour on top of the ball of dough before you start rolling, to keep the rolling pin from sticking. I rarely roll it any thinner than 1/2 an inch, as I like nice tall biscuits. I use just an ordinary drinking class to cut the circles with. Mom used to have a tin can that she kept in the top of the old wood cook-stove specifically for cutting biscuits. You can roll the scraps up and make another biscuit or two after the initial cutting (but be aware, these will be tougher and harder because of the additional handling). If you prefer square biscuits, roll your dough out and cut it accordingly.
I usually don't bake much higher than 400 F. Just keep an eye on your biscuits, you want them just to be starting to turn golden brown on the top, no more. If you have one of those baking stones, they are excellent, but may require a few more minutes in the stove for heating up. We used to have one of those, but we discovered that while they are hard to break, it is not impossible. We keep threatening to get another one, but to date it hasn't happened. The old pizza pans still turn out a good product.
And that is about all I have to say for today.
Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.