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July 28, 2021

My comfort food of choice

The word “comfort” became synonymous along with food in the last 10 years or so; “Comfort Food” it’s called. Martha Stewart wrote a cookbook entitled “Favorite Comfort Foods,” foods that make you feel good for breakfast, dinner and midnight snacks.  

Of course, these foods are NOT the best for those on a diet, but when I’m needing comfort, the last thing I am thinking about is my weight.

This last year I have been thinking how fortunate those of you who are blessed with pets. My Hubby and I lost our beloved Siamese cat Winston many years ago; a cat who had graced us with his morning meows for food, demands during the day for attention, and nightly cuddling on our laps. Our little dog Chester searched the favorite “haunts” of Winston, looking for his playmate and companion for weeks later.

Looking out my window as I was pulling the biscuits (recipe below) out of my oven, I watched a squirrel burying a walnut in the soft dirt next to Winston’s little grave. Winston would have liked that.

I have resorted to cooking more comfort foods than usual this last year. For Norm and I, sausage and sausage gravy over buttermilk biscuits were one of our favorite Sunday morning choices. The smells of sage and fennel and pork sausage would fill my kitchen. The rising of the biscuits in the oven along with smells of coffee brewing was somehow calming, giving us a sense of comfort we both needed.

Making biscuits can be second nature to some cooks; others, however, shudder at the thought, resorting to the “hockey puck” ones found in the frozen food section of markets.  

Chemistry plays the biggest part in biscuit-making, followed by the type of shortening used. I don’t pretend to be a chemist; I simply follow the rules for baking biscuits which I have added below.

1. A sharp-edged biscuit cutter is necessary, not a rounded-edged glass which will seal the biscuits edge together. A sharp cutter will cut sharply on the sides allowing the dough to properly rise during baking. Cut straight down with your cutter, never twisting as this will seal the edges of your dough.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and soda several times together, allowing air to enter and the ingredients to mix well which will help in the rising of the dough.

3. Whether you use butter or lard, snap it into your flour mixture. “Pinch the flour and fat together like you are snapping your fingers.” This will create a thin sheet of shortening that will create puff pastry-like layers in your biscuits.

4. For soft and fluffy biscuits, blend the liquid and dry ingredients (I use two forks) just until the dough resembles cottage cheese. This will stop you from activating too much gluten in the flour, ending up with a tougher biscuit that does not rise high.

5. Look for “real” buttermilk at the market, not the low-fat watery ones.

6. Use butter or leaf lard, not the hydrogenated shortening found in supermarkets (available at El Salchichero on Ingalls Street in Santa Cruz.

7. Once your biscuits are in the pan, transfer them immediately to a preheated oven. Letting them sit on the counter will allow the dough to lose its air and rising ability.

Regardless of what recipe you use and whether it contains either buttermilk, cream, lard or butter, if you follow the steps above, you will see a remarkable difference in your biscuits. Light, fluffy and golden-brown biscuits will be your reward.

KNOTT’S BERRY FARM BUTTERMILK BISCUITS (Makes 10 three-inch biscuits)                                                                                                                        Preheat oven to 500 degrees then turn down to 475 degrees. Butter a 10 in. sq. in. baking pan and set aside.

3 Tbsp. melted butter to glaze biscuits before baking                                                                                                                                                                               

2 Cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. baking powder

Sift above ingredients 3 times

3 Tbsp. very cold lard or butter cut into 1/4 in. cubes

Add shortening to dry ingredients, and with your thumb and middle finger, use the sliding method, mixing the ingredients together until the dough resembles cottage cheese.                                                                                                                                

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add 1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. buttermilk (not low fat).

1/2 tsp. baking soda mixed into the buttermilk.

Using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture, turning the bowl as you combine.  Mix only until the ingredients come together.

Turn out dough onto a floured breadboard. Sprinkle flour on top of dough, and with well-floured hands, fold dough over two to three times until just incorporated. Do not over mix. Pat dough into a 3/4-inch circle. Using a 3 inch cutter, cut out biscuits and place in pan, barely touching. Butter tops generously and bake 10-11 minutes until lightly browned.

These are wonderful!

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].