It’s spring break week and every day seems like a Sunday. Most of my friends have packed their bags and left sunny California for even warmer, more tropical climates, and I cannot wait to hear their stories of culinary escapades and see their sun-kissed faces once they return to reality.
The girls have been going to the pool every day for a few hours and we are taking walks down to the beach, breathing in the ocean air with full lungs, happy to call this amazing town our home. I let them be lazy, grateful for the moments when they envelope me in their elongated teen limbs and plant soft kisses in my hair and on my cheek. We hug a lot these days and stay in a clinch for minutes, an intertwined statue of femininity at its most fragile state, and at the same time the epitome of strength.
I went to the drugstore on the last day of school and brought home a bag of small, luxurious, nice-smelling, and utterly-meant-to-spoil items, promising them a day of pampering, the three of us the only patrons of the exclusive spa. They ogled pretty bottles and jars and giggled with anticipation, only to leave and continue playing with their Barbies, excited by the interruption, but eager to get back to their stories.
They are starting to like boys just a little bit, but their affection is aimed exclusively at out-of-reach young actors like Asa Butterfield and the adorable kid who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. Their male schoolmates are still the specimens of an icky, unknown, and hostile species, but I observe the sudden attention they pay to putting together outfits they would wear to school and at the same time exhale in relief when they innocently pull the plastic box filled with Barbies from underneath their bed.
I indulge them in the kitchen and ask every morning if they crave something special. They stretch their arms and yawn, look at one another, the sleep slowly fading from their semi-closed eyes. This lazy week allows me to to spend time with breakfast and I love the feel of not rushing and expanding my options to include anything they might desire.
Invariably, on one of the mornings, they decided in unison that they wanted biscuits. Biscuits used to intimidate me. I viewed them as spoiled Southern Belles, finicky and over-sensitive, fragile, pouty, and easily offended. I dreaded the thought that they might turn on me, scorn me for not belonging, and refuse to play nice. But I was determined to win them over and prove that a Southern Slav is as skillful as any Southerner below the Mason-Dixon line to tackle their snobbish peculiarities. I wanted to be accepted into their inner circle–big hats, mint juleps, and fainting spells with the necessary vapors included.
Coming out of the oven they were gorgeous, golden around the edges and pale in the middle, filling the kitchen with their comforting aroma. They perched perkily on the plate, and when the girls reached for them and opened them up, they were flaky, tender, and light, with a crumbly crust. They thirstily accepted the first yellow pad of butter, perfect in their seeming simplicity. I felt vindicated and for just a second I thought I heard the reverberating echo of horses’ hooves disappearing into the distance, as the breeze brought a touch of Southern humid heat into our California home.
There are certain things I learned on my quest to attain the perfect, flaky, light biscuits:
1. The butter has to be really cold. I don’t own a food processor and I mix my dough by hand. That’s why I borrowed Mother’s grating method for keeping the butter chilled. The more time the flour, the dough, and the biscuits spend in the fridge, the better.
2. Do not overwork your dough, or the biscuits will be tough. I cut my biscuits in squares to avoid the remnants form the circles, as they always make for tougher biscuits, having been rolled several times.
3. Once you shaped and placed them on cookie sheet, you can cover them with a plastic wrap and freeze them. To bake them, let them sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.
4. The biscuits should be eaten immediately.
5. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own in minutes. Measure ¾ cup regular milk and squeeze 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. The acid will slightly curdle the milk and turn it into buttermilk! You can use it immediately.
SOUTHERN BELLE BUTTERMILK BISCUITS
- 2 cups all purpose flour*
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 8 Tbsp very cold butter
- ¾ cups cold buttermilk
* I was not able to find White Lilly flour that everyone recommends for quick, flaky breads, as it has much less gluten then the all-purpose flour. Next time I will have to experiment and substitute some of the all-purpose flour with cake flour, just for comparison.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Using the side with the biggest holes on your grater grate the butter as quickly as you can. Mix with a fork and add buttermilk. Mix until combined. Turn the dough onto a very lightly floured kitchen counter and knead just a few times. (The dough will be slightly wet). Wrap in the plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 20 minutes to allow butter to cool off.
Preheat the oven to 475F.
Turn the dough out on the lightly floured counter and flatten into a rectangle with a rolling pin without pushing too hard and overworking the dough. It should be about ½ inch thick. Using a sharp knife (or even better a pizza cutter) cut into 2 inch squares. Sprinkle with a little flour and place on a cookie sheet. (If the time allows, put the cookie sheet in the freezer for several minutes to ensure that the butter stays chilled.) Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Serve immediately.
Last year: Rosemary Focaccia