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If it looks like a biscuit ...

Sara here, hoping Jean's having a lovely time on vacation. (Hurry back, please.)

I'm no cooking expert. Wait, you're saying, then why are you writing for a FOOD blog? Because I'm learning as I go and unabashed enough to share my mistakes, in all their glory, along the way. It's all about the learning process, in my mind. (For instance, did you know that shortening turns translucent from the inside out after sitting untouched in the pantry for over a year? It does! Don't worry, I threw it out and used a newer batch.)

Take these buttermilk biscuits. They look delicious, somewhat fluffy at least. But don't let my equally amateur foray into food photography fool you. They turned out mostly fluff and very little taste.

THE MISTAKE: I was working from a recipe that, the further I read, didn't make much sense when compared with what I've seen my own mother do since I was young enough to eat biscuit dough from the bowl without judgment. See, I demand a recipe with rules, not the fly by the strings of her apron method my mom has always used where she wings the measurements. But the recipe just didn't sound right, so I gave in and asked her for advice, and not very intelligently cherry-picked an ingredient here, a method there, until what came out of the oven looked like a biscuit but wasn't necessarily biscuit-tasting.

THE LESSON: Use one or the other recipe. If it's in a book, it's most likely tried and true. Go forth with confidence. But Moms have their own brand of knowledge too; don't fight it. Though, unless a sous chef, do not attempt to wing anything on your own the very first try. And, so as not to waste a bland biscuit, drown it in butter or honey and salvage an otherwise tasty dinner.

I'll share the recipe from the book, what sounds like a "Yankee" recipe, Mom says half jokingly, because it includes baking powder and something called cream of tartar that, until yesterday, I would've assumed referred to the sauce you eat with seafood. Implied there is that, apparently, no self-respecting Southern cook would use anything more complicated than self-rising flour.

But enlighten me if you will. Now I know what my mother would've done. Does anyone out there have a better way of doing this? Brave souls back at home would appreciate the input.


2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425. Grease two 8-inch cake pans. Put the flour, salt, baking powder/soda, tartar and sugar in a bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour with fork and knife until mixture turns coarse. Add buttermilk and stir until dough forms a ball around the fork. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead 14 times. Pat until 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a 2-inch cookie cutter (I pinched and rolled, here, honestly). Place in cake pans and bake for 15-20 minutes. Makes about 16 biscuits.

My batch numbered 12, by the way, and I ditched the soda, tartar and sugar. Honestly, they weren't terrible, but there's tons of room for improvement. And thus ends my renegade cooking adventures.