Bake along with Marion! Baking powder biscuits
Marion Cunningham, who died Wednesday at the age of 90, was one of America’s great home bakers. So what could be a more fitting tribute than to cook along with her as she makes her famous baking powder biscuits?
If there is one food that symbolizes how good home cooking can be, it is baking powder biscuits. Measuring and mixing them is a snap; they don't take more than 10 minutes to make and 12 minutes to bake, and you can easily make double the amount and freeze any that you aren't going to use right away.
You will have learned a good basic lesson in baking when you get the hang of rubbing flour and shortening together with your fingertips until they are blended into small bits the size of grains of rice. The same technique is used to make pie crust.
To measure shortening, use a spoon to scoop up the shortening from the can and press it into a measuring cup. Pack it down firmly as you fill the measuring cup, and level it off with a knife. Use your fingers to remove the shortening from the measuring cup, scraping around the sides and the bottom to get it all out.
Combine flour and other dry ingredients (sugar, salt, baking powder, etc.) in a large mixing bowl. Add 1/3 cup shortening in one piece and roll it around in the flour to make it less sticky. Break up the single lump of shortening into 4 or 5 smaller pieces and coat each of them with flour mixture.
Now you need to turn the few big clumps of shortening into many tiny lumps that are distributed throughout the flour. Plunge your hands into the bowl and pick up a lump of shortening and some flour. Lightly rub the shortening and the flour between your thumbs and fingers and let the blended flour and shortening fall back into the bowl.
Repeat over and over, reaching to the bottom of the bowl and scooping up some loose flour, then rubbing it and the shortening into irregular bits. Work lightly -- don't squeeze the dough too hard. After a few minutes, when the dough has the look and feel of coarse sand, you will know that you have worked it enough.
To knead the dough, press down on the dough with the palm of one hand and push it away from you (if it is more comfortable, use both hands to push the dough). The dough will stretch into an oval shape. Lift the far end of the oval and fold it in half back toward you. Give the dough a quarter turn and press and push it away again. Repeat these steps about 10 times, using a light hand, until the dough feels smooth and silky. If the dough sticks, sprinkle on a little more flour.
These light, golden biscuits can transform the plainest supper. They can even do double duty. Serve them to accompany a main dish, or spread them with strawberries and whipped cream to make the classic American dessert strawberry shortcake.
The last step in this easy dessert is to split each baking powder biscuit in half and place each half, cut side up, on a dessert plate (it is a nice touch to warm the biscuits, if they have gotten cold, before assembling them with the strawberries and whipped cream). Now pile a quarter of the berries over the two biscuit halves. Spoon a quarter of the whipped cream on top. There will be a little strawberry juice in the bottom of the bowl. Drizzle a bit of the juice over each serving.
Baking Powder Biscuits
Active work time: 10 minutes * Total preparation time: 25 minutes
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), plus little extra for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose white flour, plus extra for dusting hands and board
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
With fingers or paper towel, scoop up a little vegetable shortening and smear just enough to cover sides and bottom of 8- or 9-inch-diameter round baking pan.
Put flour, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl and mix well with fork. Add shortening and stir in, cutting it into flour repeatedly with fork tines or by hand until mixture has texture of coarse sand.
Add milk to flour and shortening mixture and stir with fork just until milk is mixed with other ingredients and there are no dry streaks of flour left. Don't mix too much. Dough should remain moist and sticky, which will make these biscuits rise high and have tender texture.
Sprinkle about 1/4 cup flour on large cutting board or smooth counter top and spread out in circle. Coat hands with flour, then scoop dough from bowl and place on floured surface.
Knead dough until smooth and pat into rough circle about 8 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick.
You can cut biscuits into any size or shape you like. I use a 2-inch round cookie cutter. If you don't have one, use rim of small drinking glass to cut dough. You can also pat dough into square and use knife to cut square biscuits.
Press cookie cutter firmly into dough at edge of circle, and then lift straight up. Repeat this step, cutting next circle close to first, until you have cut as many biscuits as possible from dough. Place rounds in greased baking pan, leaving a little room between them.
When you have cut as many circles as you can from dough, you will have some scraps left. Gather together and pat dough (do not knead) into small circle, same thickness as before, and cut out as many biscuits as you can. Add to baking pan.
Put pan on center rack of oven and bake.
After 12 minutes, check to see whether biscuits are done. They should be golden brown on top. Break 1 open to see if it is cooked through and not sticky in center. If dough feels sticky and damp, continue to bake another 3 to 5 minutes.
Take biscuits out of oven and let sit about 3 minutes to cool just slightly. Remove from pan with spatula and either serve immediately or store, tightly wrapped, for later use. Biscuits should always be served warm, so if they have cooled, reheat in preheated 350-degree oven 5 to 6 minutes.
16 (2-inch) biscuits. Each biscuit: 98 calories; 221 mg sodium; 4 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.04 gram fiber.
Photo credits: Biscuit photo by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; step-by-step photographs by Christopher Hirscheimer, by permission of Alfred A. Knopf.