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Flaky Style Southern Biscuits

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008Biscuits are something people develop extremely strong opinions about and at the same time such an intense love affair for the preferred style it becomes difficult to even appreciate other methods.  When my sister’s husband wanted to move from the city of San Francisco out into the woods to have trees and nature and a pool, he bribed her with a freezer full of Marshall’s biscuits from Alabama.  I’m not even kidding about this.  I guess a good biscuit is hard to come by in the Bay Area.  I don’t even have a separate freezer or a garage for that matter, let alone room for a freezer filled to the rim with biscuits.  My husband lives and dies by biscuits and gravy.  As I’ve said before, I just don’t function well before about 10 am and two cups of coffee so I’m not really cut out to be a morning baker at this point in the game.

Well, it’s been a rough week for me, so for some reason, my reaction has been to bake.  Baking is not something I’m particularly good at, so I’m not sure what prompted this adventure.  Possibly it’s that I *can’t* do it in my sleep and it requires a level of concentration distracting me from other thoughts.  That said, the biscuit process probably took me about three hours start to finish, which is absurd.  The recipe doesn’t take that long, I just kept getting distracted by life or phone calls or a small child or a grown husband.  And there was the problem of I missing several key ingredients.  Well, I never have buttermilk on hand as I just don’t see the point in buying it when you can make your own very simply using ingredients I always have on hand.  Plus, what in heavens name, am I going to do with the remainder of the buttermilk after I’ve used the portion the recipe requires.  Aside from throw it out after it expires, Ahem.  Not so great for my food waste reduction goal [2].

The cream of tartar was another problem.  Cream of tartar in baking is a leavening agent.  I know how to sub for baking powder using baking soda and cream of tartar, but I wasn’t sure how to get backwards.  It was more complicated than I imagined, and I probably should have just asked Robert Shimmin [3], but I was trying, stubbornly, to pull this off on my own.  The biscuits turned out well, though if I’d gone with the original recipe, who knows, they may have been better.  I’m going to try them again with the cream of tartar and report back on my results.

The recipe is adapted from a post by Jen of userealbutter.com [4] She writes a fabulous food blog that I love and admire.  Her original recipe is here [5].  Go by it – or go at it with my changes.  She has wonderful pictures for a play-by-play cooking experience.  The adjustments I made are the buttermilk – to 2 cups of 1% milk, I added two tablespoons white vinegar – you can also use lemon juice – and let it stand for a good 10 minutes.  Since I didn’t have the cream of tartar, I used 4 1/2 tsps baking powder and only 1 tsp baking soda instead of the original 2 tsps.  Also, I used a glass to cut out my biscuits since I don’t have a biscuit cutter, a neat trick I learned from my big sis!  I also wasn’t paying attention at the point when it said to start with 1 and 3/4 c. of the buttermilk and dumped it all in.  My dough wound up too wet for proper kneading, but I rescued it by sprinkling on lots of excess flour.  Forgive me Internet!  I’m not a true baker by nature!  My oven’s kind of persnickety,  so I started checking at 16 minutes and felt like my were finished in about 17 minutes.

Two other points of conversation for this recipe, the White Lily Flour [6] mentioned in the original recipe is something I’ve sought after for YEARS but can never find.  Back in school in my Nutrition and Food Science days, this flour was purported as being the chief flour for baking.  It’s been 12 years and I can’t remember why now, but if you can find it, you should buy it!  The other great rec for non-bakers like me is a pizza stone.  Back in my working days, I had an employee who just loved to host Pampered Chef parties.  I always felt compelled to buy something and most of what I bought I disliked for one reason or another.  But the pizza stone [7] is awesome.  It makes it nearly impossible to burn cookies or biscuits.  Nice even baking.  A++ and highly recommended! Looks like now they have a rectangle [8] one I’d like even better.

Extra Flaky Style Southern Biscuits

4 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour
4 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsps salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 3/4 to 2 cups cold buttermilk
8 tbsps butter, really softened and cut into 1 tbsp pieces
1 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450° . Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut cold butter or shortening into dry ingredients with a pastry blender. (Mixture will resemble coarse crumbs, with no large chunks of butter.) If butter gets very soft at this point, refrigerate mixture for 20 minutes. Add 1 and 3/4 cups buttermilk, stirring just to moisten all ingredients. Dough should be soft and moist; add remaining 1/4 cup as needed. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently about 10 times, or just until dough holds together. Roll or pat dough into a 14-by-10-inch rectangle. With short side nearest you, spread top two-thirds of dough with 3 tablespoons soft butter, leaving bottom third, closest to you, unbuttered. Fold dough into thirds by pulling bottom third up over center and then pulling top third over middle. Turn dough so short side faces you. Roll into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. In same manner, spread again with 3 tablespoons soft butter and fold letter style. Turn once more in the same manner. Roll into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle (I used the rolling pin again); spread with remaining 2 tablespoons soft butter and fold up. Work quickly and gently so as not to overwork dough. Roll dough into rectangle 3/4-inch thick on floured surface. Cut into rounds using the top edge of a drinking glass. Place on pan, 1 inch apart. Lightly brush tops with melted butter. Bake in center of hot oven about 17 minutes, until golden brown and firm.

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