Extra Special Biscuits (for an unspecial occasion)

When did my love affair with biscuits begin?  It’s hard to say with so many food memories being tied up with them.  They are the perfect cradle for sausage gravy with extra black pepper.  There is nothing quite like a hot biscuit with homemade jam (except maybe the heel end of a fresh loaf of bread with homemade jam).  They can top potpie elegantly.  They can be lightly sweetened and used as a topper for fruit cobbler.  They can be When done right, they are hard to beat, but they are so often done wrong.  (Think flavorless hockey pucks). I know, I know, people ask why they should bother making their own biscuits since there are products out there like Bisquick (which I used in Breakfast PieQuick Cinnamon Rolls) and cans of biscuits (Supper In a Bread Loaf), but trust me, homemade biscuits are just so much better.  The process of making them doesn’t take that much longer than using something premixed. Extra Special Biscuits top

The recipe, as published, has a very good description of the basic method of biscuit making, however, it’s not the way I do it any more.  I’ve read about method in Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  I’ve read about method in various southern cookbooks.  I’ve watched people make biscuits in different kitchens.  After trying out various options, I’ve settled on two that I like and are my go-tos.  Two?  Yes.  You see, I needed an option that used my hands for the days where I just need to get my hands dirty and really want to make perfect biscuits, but I needed another option for the days where I just can’t deal and want to hurry up.  Both ways make great biscuits, but the hands-on method really helps me adjust everything until it feels just right.

Ok, so for the hands-on method, you put the fat (shortening, in this recipe, but otherwise butter quartered the long way and then cut into smaller cubes using a bench knife) and the flour, salt and leavening ingredients into a large bowl.  Using clean hands, (because apparently I think you don’t know to wash your hands before cooking food??) Put your hands into the ingredients and start smooshing and flattening the fat between your fingertips.  I like to sort of use the “cash rub”.  You know the thing people do in the movies when they are saying something is spendy or they are asking for cash.  This is not to be confused with “Making it rain” because you don’t want that mess in your kitchen.  By lifting your hands above the bowl and letting everything fall back into the bowl, it keeps the fat cool.  Once the shortening and dry ingredients are all nice and incorporated (I like to leave some chunks slightly larger than others because it makes the biscuits more interesting), add the milk.  Unless you are planning on making drop biscuits, do not add too much milk.  With your fingers (which are quickly resembling monster hands at this point) fold the milk into the dry ingredients.  It should just take a couple of passes around the bowl and the milk will be absorbed.  Even if you don’t think the dry ingredients have been incorporated enough at this point, dump the whole mess onto a floured countertop.  Lightly knead the biscuit dough about 10 times.  At this point the rest of the dry ingredients should be incorporated and your dough should be just vaguely sticky.  I never use a rolling pin to help shape my biscuits.  I just pat it down into about the thickness I want and then cut from there. Straight onto an ungreased cookie sheet and into the oven. The bench knife I mentioned earlier comes in handy at this point to clean off your counter.  It also is useful if you haven’t floured your counter well enough and need a tool to keep your biscuit dough from sticking.Extra Special Biscuits Split

When I don’t want to get my hands dirty, I follow the same process almost exactly, but dump all the ingredients except the milk into the food processor (I got that thing in college and it’s still a workhorse) and pulse it until it looks like coarse crumbs (or that crappy kinetic sand stuff that is impossible to clean).  At that point, I add the milk, pulse until mostly incorporated and dump the mess on my counter.  From that point on, it’s exactly the same process as above.

Now, this recipe specifically?  It’s not my favorite biscuit recipe.  It’s a perfectly good basic biscuit, but it’s not complex or deep.  It lacks the lightness and tang from buttermilk.  They aren’t the same sort of flaky and moist that you get from using butter.  No one at my house was complaining about these, but it’s rare that anyone complains about bread fresh from the oven.  Extra Special Biscuits Close up open

I know what you are really asking yourself at this point.  What did we do with these biscuits?  Did we slather them with butter?  Did I top them with homemade apple butter or Apple Marmalade?  Nope.  We topped these biscuits with bacon gravy and ate them for breakfast.

Extra Special Biscuits (2)

Pumpkin Muffins

In which my children consume mass quantities of muffins.

If you accidentally used a big can of pumpkin while making the pumpkin pies I posted about on Tuesday, you probably have a some leftover pumpkin sitting in a plastic container in your fridge and are trying to figure out what you want to do with it.  Let me help you.  Pumpkin muffins.  DSCN3409.JPGI have made many, many versions of pumpkin muffins over the years.  They are one of my kids’ all time favorite treats.  We cheat and substitute the raisins with chocolate chips.  My kids tend to not prefer raisins.  And there are only so many times a week that I can put them into something before someone starts to complain.  (Wait until we get into the sour cream raisin pie and the raisin sauce and raisin dumplings.) They never have the same reaction to chocolate chips for some strange reason.


I caught the little monkey girl at the counter multiple times with a butter knife in her hand popping the muffins out of the pan.  There is something so enticing about the fun color, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the meltiness of the chocolate chips.  When the boys were little, they ate nearly an entire dozen for breakfast one morning.DSCN3410.JPGYou get what I’m saying, right?  There are lots of reasons to make pumpkin muffins other than leftover pumpkin.  You know, like you like good food, you are hungry, a good song comes on the radio and you want to dance in the kitchen, but feel like you should be productive at the same time, or you want to reward your husband for investigating the gross dead animal smell in the basement (and want to cover up the smell).  DSCN3414Whatever the reason…or for none at all.  Make a batch of pumpkin muffins with chocolate chips.  Leave the raisins for other things.  Pumpkin Muffins



Quick Cinnamon Rolls

In which I give you a shortcut.

I have a backlog of recipes.  You probably are thinking about what you are going to make for breakfast tomorrow.  Or maybe you are getting ready for a sweet snack. DSCN3284As a special treat, you get a special Saturday recipe.  This is one of those recipes that is ridiculously easy, but the results are spectacular.

Quick Cinnamon Rolls
Follow recipe for Baking Powder biscuits, patting the mixture into oblong shape. Spread lightly with melted butter. Sprinkle with ½ cup of sugar into 1 tsp cinnamon has been mixed. Roll up, cut in cross-wise slices like a jelly roll and bake in oven.

DSCN3285To make these even quicker, you can use canned biscuits or Bisquik.

To fancy them up, melt butter, brown sugar, and nuts in the bottom of a pie plate before adding the rolls.  Or put some cream cheese frosting on top.

Tweedle Beetle Banana Bread Battle

In which Julia Child makes her first appearance.

When I shop at a certain grocery store, they almost always have bananas in their reduced produce bin.   I can get an enormous bag of bananas for 99 cents.  There is never anything wrong with them except that their skins have some brown spots.  The bananas inside are perfectly lovely and ripe.  However, we can only eat so many bananas in a day or two.  The rest of them find a nice home in my freezer until I’m ready to take them out and do something amazing with them.  Unfortunately, I’m not always very creative and that something is almost always banana bread.  I have a delicious recipe that I normally use from Todd English’s Olives Dessert Table Cookbook.  This blog is not about Todd English or the incredible recipes he has published, though…

In my collection of hand-me-down recipes, I was blessed with a number of banana bread recipes.  My normal process for recipes is to scan them all in and rename them all then do a quick comparison to see if the recipes are exactly alike. You would think that with the thousand or so recipes I have that there would be more repeated recipes than there actually are.  I had a long debate with myself about how to handle repeated titles and variations on recipes. There are some cases where it makes sense to do a taste test and figure out which recipe is actually better.  But in the case of things like ham loaves or egg foo yung recipes, I’m not sure I’m up to making more than one version at a time.  If we have to do things like compare which gingersnap recipe is better, as long as I have enough molasses and time, I’ll gladly make 20 versions and try them all.  In this case, I made the banana breads a few weeks apart.  I made small loaves and froze some of them for eating later on.

Ok…Banana Bread #1.

Banana Bread

1/2 cup margarine
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sour milk
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup nuts
3 mashed bananas

45-50 minutes at 350

Banana Bread #2

Banana Bread 2

Banana Bread 2

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
3 small or 2 large bananas
1 tsp baking soda
2 TB sour milk
2 cups flour
1/2 cup nuts

1 hour at 325.

These are others of those recipes where you have to know how to make it in order to follow the recipe.  Basic method for quick breads, cream the sugars and fat together, add eggs and bananas, mix the dry ingredients on the side and alternate adding them and the milk.  Add the nuts at the end.

So which was better?

#1 is textured more like a sandwich bread.  It’s a bit dryer and very much unlike other banana breads I’ve had.  It has a definite crust.  There was nothing wrong with it, but butter or cream cheese made it much better.

#2 is similar to most of the banana breads I’ve eaten before.  The texture is moist and cake-like. There is no discernible crust except on the very edges.  It reminded me of watching Julia Child at my grandma’s house when she was making some muffin or something and said “It’s so good, it hardly needs butter” as she slathered an enormous amount of butter on whatever it was she was eating. My kids definitely preferred this one.

In the battle of these two banana breads, #2 is #1.

Applesauce Date-Nut Loaf

In which I finally get around to posting a recipe with dates in it.

Finally I am posting a recipe that includes the dates that the blog was named after.  (See About Page for further details).  It seems to me that dates have fallen out of favor as a normal ingredient except in things like energy bites.  I have so many “new” recipes that call for them, that I was excited to see a large resealable bag of them at Costco.  I have to be careful with dates since there are dried dates that are rolled in oat flour to prevent them from sticking.  DSCN2829Quick breads are great.  They are easy to make, they are easy to store.  They are delicious warmed up with butter, spread with jam, spread with cream cheese.  My kids eat them, but only if I’ve sliced the loaf for them.  John pointed out that it’s because without being sliced, he feels like the bread might have another purpose.  Then went on to say something about “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread because when the bread is sliced you know you can eat it.” Maybe I just need to start leaving “Eat Me” signs around my kitchen like in Alice in Wonderland?

But the thing is, I get caught in the banana bread/pumpkin bread/zucchini bread loop.  There are so many other great quick breads out there.  Most of them can be made into either loaves or muffins.  Cooking time needs to be adjusted when changing pan sizes, of course. If I am deviating from the size pan specified by the recipe (usually from larger to smaller), I set the timer for the oven for 20 minutes and evaluate from that point, either with a toothpick/cake tester, or by sight as to how much more time is needed for a proper bake.   I used mini loaf pans and I think we got 3 loaves.  I have the other ones in my freezer.  They took about 45 minutes to bake.DSCN2837Appropriately the dates for this recipe came from my grandma’s house when we moved her a year ago.  They have been sitting in my freezer just waiting (along with fruit for fruitcakes, but that’ll be closer to Christmas).  The applesauce I used for this came from my apple trees.  It’s not heavily sweetened and was flavored with cinnamon, but not a lot.  It’s very much a personal preference or what you have on hand sort of thing.  You do not need to make your own applesauce for this recipe.  However, if you decide to, making applesauce is not complicated.

A couple of other things about this bread.  It is very dense and very moist.  Toast the nuts before using them.  It makes a difference.  This is another one of those recipes where whole wheat flour can be used in place of white flour.



And really, isn’t this a lovely loaf?

Applesauce-Date Nut Loaf