- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Sometimes we need food to be an agent of comfort. Old-fashioned, straightforward recipes, like this one for simplest buttermilk biscuits, provide a good example of food that not only calms, but reminds us of simpler times than those we navigate today.

The word biscuit comes from “bi” (twice) and the Latin “coquere,” the root for culinary words, including cook, cuisine, concoct and kitchen. The name refers to the fact that early American biscuits were usually baked twice: once for the initial preparation and then again, after a long storage period, when a second heating would freshen them back to tenderness … sort of.

Biscuits were true larder food in pioneer days, but no longer. Modern biscuit recipes are freshly baked and eaten just after emerging from the oven.

Serve these biscuits with your favorite soup for lunch or supper, with your favorite eggs for breakfast, or with your favorite cup of tea or hot cocoa any time. Goodbye, anxiety; hello, peace of mind. At least for the moment.

Simplest buttermilk biscuits

Working the dough quickly with cold ingredients (butter and buttermilk) prevents the gluten in the flour from developing, so that you end up with a very light biscuit. A food processor makes this fast and easy. If you don’t have a food processor, it is possible to cut the butter into the flour mixture with two forks.

Work as quickly as you can, to keep the ingredients cold. These biscuits freeze well if wrapped airtight in a heavy plastic bag. After defrosting, reheat or lightly toast them in a toaster oven.

Nonstick spray for the baking tray

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon sugar, optional

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

2/3 cup cold buttermilk

Lightly spray a baking tray with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Place flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar, if using, in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process briefly to combine.

Cut butter into thin slices and distribute on top of dry mixture. Using several long pulses, process until butter is uniformly cut into dry ingredients and mixture resembles coarse meal.

With food processor running, pour buttermilk directly through feed tube into dough. As soon as mixture holds together (about 3 or 4 seconds), turn off machine.

Roll or pat dough into an 8-inch circle, 3/4-inch thick. Cut free-form biscuits with a knife or, to be more traditional, with a glass. (I like to use a glass that has a 2½-inch diameter rim.) Bake on center rack of preheated 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until deep golden brown on the bottom and light golden brown on top. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before serving. Makes 8 to 10 medium-size biscuits.

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