Industrial Harvest

What happened to the flour, part 10: personal use by sarah kavage

Hey, so maybe it’s time for me to tell y’all what I did with my flour…

Presented below, in no particular order, are the occasions of how I personally used the flour to nourish others in the spirit of the project.  I baked for a number of other events related to the Industrial Harvest itself, but these activities are more personal in nature.

For Thanksgiving 2010, I made two batches of dinner rolls and one pear-honey-walnut pie for two different Thanksgiving dinners in Seattle.  The rolls were a recipe my mom sent me, and turned out PERFECTLY for the first dinner, which was held on the official Thanksgiving day at our place with a few friends.  We try to do up a proper feast, usually vegetarian or vegan, every year and as the photo shows, we had a lot to be thankful for this year.  Rolls are in the “wicker chicken” breadbasket, center top; pie is to the right of the rolls.  You may also spy stuffing, two varieties of white potatoes and one of sweet potatoes, succotash with great-grandma’s heirloom red limas, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce, a squash-pecan pie and two breastlike tofu turkey mounds in a sea of roasted root veggies:

The Thanksgiving table

The Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving dinner rolls

Thanksgiving dinner rolls

The dinner rolls were the exception to an otherwise vegan dinner.  I made another batch for a larger Thanksgiving celebration a week later but cooked them in the host’s oven and they turned out underdone (still totally edible and appreciated).

The pear honey walnut pie made at least three appearances over the summer and fall, most recently at Thanksgiving.  It turned out to be the perfect pie for late summer, as pears are in season and you can always substitute apples or asian pears.  Here’s one example (from the illustration on the top crust, this one probably has apples or asian pears in it):

one of many pear-honey-walnut pies

one of the pear-honey-walnut pies

Our Chicago household (myself included) was partial to breakfasting on this pie – there’s barely any sugar in it, and the walnuts add enough protein to get you through the morning.

I made a lot of biscuits.  I probably make biscuits more than any other baked good, and in Chicago that meant several batches for the housemates and myself, some vegan, some with lard, some with buttermilk depending on all our various dietary quirks.  Back in Seattle, I made biscuits for a couple of different visitors, and a couple of batches for myself and my husband.  Sadly, there are no pictures of the biscuits.

And then there was the pizza.  I got tons of practice making pizza last summer – grilled, wood-oven fired, stovetop, plain old oven baked, I did it all.  My favorite episode involved bringing a bunch of excess dough and homemade pizza sauce (made with fresh midwest tomatoes from my housemate’s garden plot!) home to a little family reunion in Ohio, the first we’ve had in years.  Mom was happy to be absolved from some cooking duties, and the huge batch of pizza that resulted fed everyone at the reunion with slices to spare.

Another epic pizza making session took place on another homecoming – the day of I returned from Chicago to Seattle, which also happened to be my birthday.  We’d invited a bunch of friends over to make pizza as a welcome home / birthday celebration and I pretty much rolled off the train and started rolling dough.  The hilarity in the kitchen that ensued was well worth it…there’s some goofy documentation of the evening here.

I did try bread baking a couple of times, with reasonable success.  These loaves were made for our Chicago household on a verrrry hot July day, right after the flour was finished milling.  They’re not the prettiest, but they were tasty.

The lumpen loaves

The lumpen loaves

And lastly, there’s this decorative bread medallion.  It was inspired by a Bread Bakers’ Guild of America newsletter article on artistic breadbaking, which included a recipe.  Compared to the lovely, highly refined decorative breads produced by the pros, my effort was pretty crude.  Nor did it technically nourish anyone, but as one of the few actual art pieces produced as part of Industrial Harvest, I was somehow happy with it and felt it deserved a place in this list.  It was one of three made for the show at Roots & Culture.  You can see the others here (one fell apart shortly after the opening).

wheat penny bread medallion

wheat penny bread medallion


What Happened to the Flour, Part 6: Short and Sweet by sarah kavage

Happy New Year!  For all you flour recipients, thanks for all the notes in response to my recent email about what’s happened to all the flour y’all took home.  It’s been fun reading them all.  So far, the emails and reports have ranged from short essays to just a few words.  As much as I love a long, leisurely tale (and there’ll be plenty of entries dedicated to those, don’t worry!), it’s those that say so much in so few words that I want to celebrate in this post.  Because, if you still owe me a note, it’s as easy as these.  Really.  You can write a novel, and I’ll appreciate it, but these are also totally and wonderfully perfect in their simplicity.

From: K
To: sarah
Date: Tue, November 16, 2010 4:08:15 PM
Subject: Taylor’s muffins
Hi Sarah,
Taylor, my 10-year old daughter, and I met you at Forest Park’s market on Oct 8. We loved your flour and made apple muffins. We shared them with co-workers, teachers, friends and neighbors. They were almost all gone before I remembered to take a picture!
Hope your project is going well.

muffins de Taylor

muffins de Taylor

From: M
To: sarah
Date: Mon, September 27, 2010 9:02:28 PM
Subject: Photos of our wonderful bread : )
Hi Sarah,
Here are a few pictures of the delicious bread we baked this weekend. Thanks a lot for providing us with the
free flour and for all the wonderful work you do.

wonderful bread

wonderful bread

I’ve gotten two lovely notes from P. in the last week, both under 10 words with a single picture.  Note that the plates are the same.

From: P
To: sarah
Date: Wed, December 29, 2010 6:50:30 PM
Subject: Waffle
Made with industrial harvest flour & enjoyed with friends. Delicious.


From: P
To: sarah
Date: Sat, January 1, 2011 3:40:55 PM
Subject: Cornbread made with industrial harvest flour
Part of the traditional new year’s meal.

happy new year!

happy new year!

From: S
To: sarah
Date: Tue, November 9, 2010 1:24:02 PM
Subject: What I did with my flour
Hello Sarah,
I used most of my flour to make waffles for my friends! I hosted a waffle breakfast and fed about 14 people, including moms and other guests from out of town. They were all delighted to participate in your project. Thanks for providing the delicious main ingredient!

and more waffling!

and more waffling!

From: k
To: sarah
Date: Thu, December 30, 2010 10:14:56 AM
Subject: Re: happy holidays from industrial harvest
Hi, Sarah, thanks again for the flour!  I used some for homemade noodles.

and a little noodlin'

and a little noodlin'

From: j
To: sarah
Date: Thu, December 30, 2010 6:47:32 AM
Subject: Going to make oatmeal artisan bread to share
Sent from my Wireless Phone



From: c
To: sarah
Date: Mon, January 3, 2011 4:28:57 PM
Subject: chocolate chip muffins!
Unfortunately I did not think to take pictures and have used the whole darn bag but I made a lot of chocolate chip walnut
muffins for the holidays. Delicious and GONE!*

*this was a friend of mine, and it wasn’t till after she sent this email that I realized I had eaten some of those very muffins.  They were indeed delicious.

What happened to the flour, part 3: blogroll by sarah kavage

Today’s snippets all come from the so-called blogosphere.  I have been amazed at the profusion of cooking / eating / food-related blogs that exist,  and tracked down quite a few posts that detail baking adventures with Industrial Harvest flour.  Bonus:  food bloggers, if I may generalize so crudely, appear to be quite dedicated.  They take lots of pictures.  They provide lots of loving background detail and backstories.  They also often include recipes!

Some of these have made it to the Industrial Harvest facebook page already, so excuse the repeats if you’ve seen them already.  But let that be a reminder to you:  if you’re on facebook, said page is a great way to let me know what you’ve done with the flour.  Another option:  post photos to our still-underutilized flickr group!

Moving right along:  this blogger made whole wheat biscotti using Alice Waters’ recipe

ECO, a cooperative household in Pilsen, runs a CSA and a co-op.  They did all kinds of stuff with the flour and took wheat berries to plant a cover crop on their rooftop garden.

Last year around this time, I was wrapping up a residency at InCUBATE, which may have been the tipping point at which this project became a reality.  InCUBATE (and I, as resident) shared their Congress Theater storefront with the Chicago Underground Library, and that was how I met Thuy.  Thuy is a pretty serious baker, and turned me on to the magic of pure wheat gluten (if you’ve never tried it, it is a miracle cure for too-dense, heavy bread).  So I knew Thuy would do something awesome with the flour and was thrilled to re-connect with her this fall.  Her beautifully written post is not to be missed.

The Cuentos Foundation had a fundraiser / bake sale in October to raise money for Oaxaca mudslide victims at Danny’s, a classic Chicago watering hole.

My buddies Gina and Jerry in Seattle have been all wrapped up with opening what will surely be a super-delicious, authentic and unpretentious Italian restaurant.  But they still took the time to adopt 50 pounds of flour and bake a huge batch of bread for the local food bank…in their backyard brick oven that they built themselves.

And then there’s this.  Your mouth will water looking at these pictures (click “next post” all the way at the bottom of the page for the finished product).

catching up by sarah kavage

It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve got some catching up to do on recent events.  Rob (on a visit from Seattle) and I were lucky to be included as part of one of the semi-regular trips to Angelic Organics’ rural Learning Center with folks from the Heartland Alliance’s Kovler Center and their sister program, International FACES.  Both programs work with refugees and victims of torture.  Many of the refugees come from rural or agricultural backgrounds, and many of them rarely get to leave the city (for some of the folks, this was their first trip outside Chicago since their arrival in the US).   Angelic had a wood-fired oven, I had some flour, Rob had a camera, and the refugees had their traditional recipes from their home countries.  We harvested vegetables, rolled dough, and talked.

I think Rob, the son of refugees, puts into words what I can’t about the experience.

Speaking of putting things into words well, Martha Bayne really did an amazing job with her feature article about this project in the Reader.

And, one last thing, I got an answer to the question in the previous post about how farmers benefit from an increase in wheat prices if the harvest is already past.  I’ll be posting that in the comments section of the post momentarily (or maybe tomorrow).

Artisan Baking Essentials by sarah kavage

posted by Sarah

The other night I took a class on artisan bread baking with George De Pasquale, co-founder, owner and lead baker at Seattle’s Essential Baking Company.   Essential was one of Seattle’s first artisan bakeries, and their bakers have competed as part of the American team at the prestigous Coupe de Monde de la Boulangerie – the “Bakers’ Olympics.”  Their Rosemary Diamante and the Parisian baguette are house favorites, and so I jumped at the chance to hear from an expert about how to make delicious bread.   

Artisan baking in the French – Italian style can be tough for the home baker, as kitchen ovens lack the fancy bells and whistles (primarily steam injection) that turn out the perfect artisan loaf – but George did a fabulous job showing us how to make an artisan loaf with standard kitchen equipment.  It was a lot of information to pack into a 3-hour class, but I can pass along a few tidbits:

– To get good steam in the oven, put a cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven and give it a long (1 1/2 hour) pre-heat to get really hot.  Use a spritzer to load the oven with steam, put the loaf into the oven, then pour 1/4 cup of water in the skillet.  Shut the oven door quickly and don’t peek for 13 minutes.  This will give you the chewy yet crisp crust that is essential to good Frenchy-style bread. 

– The water you bake with should be on the hard side, as hard water has minerals in it that enhance the flavor.  Adding slightly more salt to the dough can compensate for this.

– For home ovens, smaller loaves are better. 

– Although hand kneading is superior to machine mixing, it takes about 1000 kneads to create fully-formed gluten strands.  The method of kneading for 10-15 minutes, then letting the dough rest for 30 minutes is designed to substitute for some of the work of kneading.  Although I’ve heard not to knead whole wheat bread (the bran in the whole wheat can cut the strands of gluten), according to George it’s still necessary to do some kneading. 

– Let your bread bake till it’s dark!  We were strongly encouraged to leave the bread in the oven till the “ears” (the crusty bits created by slicing the top of the bread) get a little bit blackened for the best flavor. 

We learned how to make starters (the biga, the liquid levain and the levain) which, although they are higher maintenence, create a more complex flavor and bring out the flavor of the flour (and have less of a yeasty taste, since they use so little yeast).  There was also a math portion of the evening where we learned “bakers’ math” (apparently, previous versions of the class included practicing bakers’ math problems, something I was thankful to do without).  George was a great advocate of experimentation, note-keeping and methodical observation to create “your own bread.”  One of the best things he said in the course of the evening was that baking bread is more like farming than anything else – as the bread baker, your job is to “plant” a culture in a medium and carefully tend it as it grows and evolves.

PITA by sarah kavage
January 16, 2010, 5:14 pm
Filed under: baking, recipes | Tags: , ,

We had our friend T in town for a night this past week.  His presence at our dinner table was a good excuse to get back on the baking.  I turned to an old standby, pita bread.  Homemade pita – with a pocket and everything – is so much better that store bought pita does not make it on my shopping list anymore.  Pita is also less time-consuming than loaves, and pretty easy for dilletante bakers such as myself to get great results. 

Here’s my recipe:   
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/4 cups flour (I used 1/3 white flour, 2/3 whole wheat flour from Fairhaven Mills co-op)
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar (I usually don’t add the sugar, but supposedly it makes them brown more quickly and gives more food to the yeast)
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet) yeast

I primed the yeast by putting it in the water, adding just 1 cup of flour, and letting that sit about 30 minutes till it was bubbly on top and puffy.  Add the rest of the ingredients, mix it up and give it a quick knead and let it rise for about 45 minutes.  Then divide the dough into 4 equal parts and form it into balls.  Let the dough balls rise for about 10 more minutes, then press them into 8-inch rounds about 1/4 inch thick.  Bake on the bottom rack of a 450 deg. oven for 5 minutes; you definitely don’t want to overdo it.  The pitas will puff up while baking (if you’ve got kids, the puffing will be quite a treat to watch), taking on their signature “pocket” form, and may get slightly brown when they’re done, but don’t wait for them to get brown before you pull them out of the oven – you want them to stay pliable. 

The whole wheat dough made for a pita that had more flavor, but was grainier and not quite as decadently divine as the standard white flour pita.  I kind of forgot that with whole wheat you need more water / less flour which probably would have improved the results.   They were still better than store-bought, especially when piled with homemade babaghanoush and falafel and veggies.  We never made it out of the kitchen, preferring to stand and nosh and catch up as other friends dropped in to say hi to T. 

In the middle east, pitas are made in 800-degree brick ovens like pizza (in fact, pizza itself, and the word pizza may have evolved from pita, which basically means bread or flatbread in several languages).  The very high temperatures are what cause the puffing.  The yeast goes into shock somehow and aids in the puffing, along with steam.  In searching online after the fact (here for a whole wheat pita recipe and check out the comments here for lots of useful tips), higher oven temperatures – 500 degrees – and a bit of misting in the oven with a spray bottle are recommended to encourage puffiness.

Milling About, Observing and Routine by sarah kavage
One of the things that came with me to Chicago from Seattle was a couple pounds of hard winter wheat berries grown in Eastern Washington.  That seems just a little bit silly since I was going to the heartland and all, but there it was in the bulk foods section, begging to come along and weigh down my luggage.  

This project requires understanding every link in the cycle of growing, refining and making all sorts of things with wheat.  Now that I’m feeling a little more comfortable with the baking, I can take things up a notch – what about actually making the flour?  Back in Seattle, I ground some of the wheat up in a coffee grinder just to see how that would work.  It took a long time and almost burned out the motor, but I did end up with something flour-like.  I thought I might be able to find someone who had a home-use flour mill in Chicago and try it, but it turns out I’ve been a little busy trying to find things like commodities traders and farmers and cannot even bring myself to think about running around this huge city trying to track down a flour mill.  Somewhere, somehow I heard something about using a blender to do the job.  And InCUBATE happens to have a really nice heavy-duty blender.  So this is what happens when you put wheat in a blender and make some bread with it.  

It took 5 or 6 rounds of running the blender, sifting out the flour, and putting the rest back in the blender till I was good and sick of the noise, and there were still a bunch of cracked wheat berries left over.  

Here’s the side by side comparison.  The blender flour (left) was more uniform in size and texture, while with the milled flour it’s quite easy to differentiate the flour (made up of the endosperm, the starchy interior part of the wheat) from the bran (its brown, papery exterior).  The texture of the blended flour was also coarser – comparable to hruba mouka, the coarse-ground flour used by the Czechs to make bread and dumplings.  

I decided to repeat the bomb-proof no-knead recipe from the other day, and used 1 cup of milled whole grain flour, 1 cup of fine whole wheat flour (the whole grain flour sifted) and 1 up of the blender flour.  To that I added a healthy dose of pure wheat gluten that a friend gave me.  Made from the protein part of the wheat, pure (or vital) wheat gluten added to bread is supposed to help it rise – another trick home bakers use to get bakery-quality results, especially for whole wheat breads.  

At the end of the milling, sifting and measuring stage, here’s what was on the counter.  The photo deliberately misrepresents my organization / neatness level. 

Wheat, Deconstructed

Wheat, Deconstructed

From left to right in the bowls, we have the sifted and unsifted milled flour, the blended flour, and the cracked wheat.  The cracked wheat won’t go into the bread but can be made into some sort of porridge (ugh) or as a substitute for couscous or bulgur in a pilaf (not so bad), or even into bulgur wheat itself, which sounds delicious but labor-intensive.  In the center we have the gluten on the left and the bran on the right.  The excess bran is used to keep the dough from sticking and to put a little crunchy crisp on the top, but there will still be some leftover.  I’ve been using it in shakes for breakfast and gave the rest to the person who gave me the gluten. 

The result:  delicious!  I was a little bit amazed at how quickly this bread baking stuff has become somewhat routine.  The motions, the textures and the timing are already starting to feel more intuitive.  No doubt my learning curve has been flattened (steepened? anyway, it’s getting easier) due to the advice of many friends and visitors (pros and hobbyists) to the InCUBATE ‘test kitchen.’  The all-powerful internet helps too, but the internet can’t stand in the kitchen with me and tell me  “that’s a good crumb” or “those little strands are what you’re looking for” or “it’s probably time for it to go in the oven now.”  These people are teaching me what to look for and how to observe the process, and it’s making this project a whole lot more satisfying and delicious. 

As a postscript, I thought of Heike a lot making this latest loaf and this post – read her observations, and her observations about observation here (I liked them so much I put them on my other blog).  She’s also the proud owner of a new flour mill!

success! by sarah kavage

A huge shout out to Bryce, InCUBATE co-founder, who suggested this revolutionary recipe for bread.  You make a really wet dough, let it rise for 12-18 hours and cook it in a covered pot.  Every single person I talked to who had tried this method affirmed that it’s amazing – what, a recipe with no letdown?? 

This method was developed by Jim Lahey at Sullivan St. Bakery in NYC.  The science geek in me was drawn to his ability to work with the science behind bread baking to put the home baker on equal (well, better) footing with the pros.  The home baker is at a real disadvantage in terms of equipment when it comes to producing a bakery-quality loaf, and Lahey’s approach requires no baking stones or steam injected ovens, just your standard ingredients and a pot with a lid. 

I made an organic whole wheat dough with organic flour – 2/3 whole grain and 1/3 sifted so that it was more of an all purpose flour.  The dough did not seem as wet as it should have been at first – probably b/c of the whole wheat flour – so I added a little extra water.  I also ended up putting it in the fridge overnight after the first rise and then taking it out again in the morning; it’s probably better to start this one at night rather than first thing in the AM.  The dough made charming little fizzy musical notes as it rose, was perfectly cooperative and the final result was good looking AND delicious.  I’m eating it now! 

Bryce was also kind enough to lend me his camera so that I can take a few better-then-cell-phone quality pictures; appropriately enough the first pictures are of this picturesque loaf of bread. 

Tacky and Sticky come to dinner by sarah kavage

This past weekend, Anne and I spent our afternoons trekking around the city visiting different farmers’ markets.  At the cute little downtown farmstand I picked up some locally grown organic flour from Ackerman farms in Chenoa, Illinois – located about 100 miles away, they also grow organic edamame soybeans, corn and other produce.  I also scored some cinnamon-infused honey from another market the following day.  The honey whole wheat bread featured on the Fresh Loaf therefore seemed to be the logical, easy and delicious choice.  Measured by weight, my ingredients would make a bread that is over 75% local and organic. 

I tried to be a little more anal with this recipe, but there was still some improvisation required.  The recipe calls for some a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, which is made by sifting the bran out of the whole grain flour.  There is no sifter at InCUBATE, and I had to pick up window screen from the hardware store across the street to make an improvised version which totally did the trick.  The little kitchen scale at InCUBATE made it possible to actually follow the baking tips on the Fresh Loaf website, which strongly advocate measuring by weight as opposed to volume. 

Whole wheat dough needs to be more moist in order to get a good rise, but I had no idea what the difference was between a “sticky” (not good) and a “tacky” (good) dough.  I thought tacky was bad (smoking / eating while walking, loud gum chewing,  handbags that don’t match).  

Speaking of tacky, the dough rose in the bathroom right next to the heating vent – the warmest available spot.  The delicious smell was the best air freshener ever, permeating the bathroom and then the entire space.  The second rise got cut short due to time constraints, as I was taking the bread up to Mess Hall for Anne’s final Art Institute class presentations.  My loaf was therefore a little small and the crust a little thick, but tasty – especially paired with butter that we made ourselves; the act of doing so was part of one of the presentations.  The class was about creative resistance of corporate culture, and was, appropriately, a potluck (and damn, those kids can cook!). 

 As a footnote, a new acquaintance who is a baker from Floriole bakery (conveniently, their kitchen is located almost right next door to InCUBATE) told me that “tacky” means that there is no spackle-like dough coming off on your hands when you handle it.  Now we all know.  She also said it’s tough to screw up whole wheat bread – “it always tastes good.”  Music to my ears.

Early adventures in baking at InCUBATE by sarah kavage
December 7, 2009, 6:25 am
Filed under: baking | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dec. 2-5, 2009.  While at InCUBATE, I want to get familiar with what can be done with wheat.  I am starting to think about it like one would any other art medium, and it’s a medium I have very limited experience with. 

Baking is the obvious place to begin.  I’m a pretty good cook, but baking, not so much.  I can make a few things (pie crust, biscuits, pita bread, foccacia, pizza dough) – but actual loaves of leavened bread are a little intimidating.  In retrospect, it seems a bit foolish to begin this adventure using a bag of flour that was left behind by the previous InCUBATE resident.  But it would have gone to waste otherwise, and being unfamiliar with the neighborhood and not having a lot of time, I decided to just go for it. 

The recipe was one for “daily bread” from the King Arthur Flour website that seemed pretty simple.  I made up the dough and let it rise overnight (the InCUBATE kitchen is pretty cold, so it was taking a long time to rise) and gave it a second rising in the morning.  The dough tasted salty as all get-out, and I may have made it too dry and despite the cold kitchen let it rise too long.  The final result was a rather lumpy, oversized softball that nonetheless had good color and texture.  Sadly, it was so salty that it was not really edible.  I am what you would call a salt lover, and it’s hard to believe that food could be too salty for my taste. 

Thinking I had mis-read the recipe or somehow mistakenly quintupled the amount of salt called for, I started another batch with 1/3 the salt the recipe called for.  Got a good rise out of the dough, but it was still way salty.  So midway through the first loaf I started a third loaf with no salt which was only slightly better.  As the first loaf went into the oven, I happened to notice that I was using self-rising flour with baking powder and salt.  It’s actually biscuit flour.  Neither loaf tasted any better when cooked (I kept hoping that something would magically change in the oven to make the bread less salty) and went into the trash.  There are few things more frustrating to me than wasting food.  Arrgh.    

The upside of the whole debacle was that I now had an excuse to make biscuits and coincidentally, had a breakfast date with Anne E. Moore, who is an appreciative biscuit consumer.  I was a bit nervous, as Anne is a bit of a connoisseur of baked goods.  If nothing else, I am confident in my ability to make a mean biscuit, even vegan ones, but the issue with the flour threw me. 

I put my worries aside and fired up the ole InCUBATE oven once again.  The biscuit recipe came from my sister when I visited her in West Virginia over 10 years ago.  The piece of notebook paper it was written on is now so beat up and the ink has run so badly that it’s not at all legible, and I’ve modified the recipe and never written down any of the modifications – but I still get out this piece of paper to make biscuits.  It’s some sort of weird pneumonic that stimulates the biscuit part of my brain.  Interestingly, the paper got lost recently so I’ve been flying without a net and doing just fine. 

Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 c. flour, plus a bit for rolling / cutting the dough
  • 1/3 – ½ c. butter or margarine (I usually use vegan “butter” and other folks like to do a 50/50 split with shortening & butter but I like a more buttery flavor). 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 TB sugar (this is optional – I usually skip it)
  • 1 c. buttermilk.  Or you can 3/4 c. regular milk with the juice of 1 lemon squeezed in to give it some sour flavor.  Not a problem if it curdles.  For vegan biscuits, soymilk works too – this is what I usually do.  Recently I made real buttermilk biscuits and they were so incredibly delicious that I can’t honestly say the vegan version is just as good.  The vegan version is great.  But real buttermilk is over the top. 

Preheat oven to 425 deg. Fahrenheit.  I have also experimented with even higher temperatures – some folks recommend 450 – 475 deg. for crisp exterior / moist interior (if you do this, shorten the baking time). 

  1. Mix dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, salt)
  2. Cut the butter into the flour till it resembles tiny crumbs.  If you don’t have a biscuit cutter you can cut it into cubes with a knife, then work it into the flour with your hands. 
  3. Add milk and mix just until the flour is all moistened and it will hold a shape.  DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH!  You want the butter to stay in little bits so that it melts during the baking and makes little air pockets.  Too much mixing or kneading will melt the butter.  Overworking will also create long “strings” of starches that are great for regular bread, but make chewy biscuits. 
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, flatten till it’s about ½ – ¾ in. thick. 
  5. To cut the biscuits, you can use a knife and just slice the dough into squares or use a cookie cutter / biscuit cutter.  My mom used to use a red plastic drinking glass, and glasses do work if you don’t have a cutter, but strive for something with a thin edge – the finest crystal will do.  Make sure the cutter is well-floured and sharp.  Dull, sticky cutters will smash down the edges of the biscuit and prevent rising.  It’s fun to experiment with different sizes and even simple shapes (hearts, diamonds) – my star-shaped cookie cutter makes the best biscuits, hands down.  I have no idea why. 
  6. If you have a looser (wetter) dough, you can drop biscuits onto the tray with a spoon.  Some of my favorite biscuit batches have been from very wet doughs; my friend Jed still talks about a late night batch that I’d thought was going to be a mushy mess. 
  7. The biscuits should be placed on the tray close together but not touching; this will help the sides from cooking too quickly, which stops them from rising.  Biscuits are all about facilitating the fluffiness.  That’s right, your job is to be the biscuit fluffer.   
  8. Baking time will vary depending on oven temp, but 12-18 minutes is about the norm.  They should rise a little bit and be slightly brown on top. 

If I can indulge myself in a little self-congratulatory pat on the back for just a moment here, that entire recipe was written down from memory.  No internet research required! 

Of course, this batch of biscuits did not have any salt or baking powder because of this crazy flour.  They contained soymilk and real butter and were perfectly fine, especially paired with Anne’s mushroom gravy and coffee with eggnog.