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Timing Is Everything

March 23, 1997|MAYI BRADY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Wow! Are those biscuits or hockey pucks?"

Not quite the "wow" I'd anticipated.

Just a few days earlier I'd made batch after perfect batch of fluffy biscuits in The Times Test Kitchen. In fact, the cream biscuits were so good that I felt sure they'd wow my friends when I served them on St. Patrick's Day. Let's just say my friends weren't green with envy.

I thought I knew all the rules of biscuit making. Most important: Knead gently and work fast. But there was an important biscuit don't I'd never learned: Don't mix, roll or cut your biscuits until you're absolutely, positively ready to slip them into the oven. I guess biscuit dough doesn't like to be kept waiting, not even a little bit. But then who does?

Live and learn.

Biscuit Do's and Don'ts

* Always work as quickly and lightly as possible, never overworking the dough.

* Use your fingertips to quickly but gently add the shortening, butter or lard to the flour.

* When kneading, biscuit dough takes a lighter hand than most bread doughs. Don't give it a hard knead; it's best to more or less massage or pat the dough as gently as possible.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 2, 1997 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
The nutritional analysis for the Cream Biscuits with Sage recipe in the March 23 issue was based on all-purpose flour, instead of on self-rising flour, resulting in a lower sodium content. The correct sodium content is 196 milligrams.

* Use a sharp cookie or biscuit cutter (as opposed to a glass) and never twist the cutter; that would keep the biscuits from rising completely.

* Make sure your oven is fully preheated. You need a very hot oven to make a good biscuit.

CREAM BISCUITS WITH SAGE

There is no easier biscuit than a cream biscuit made with self-rising flour (as long as you make the dough just before putting them in the oven). It rises beautifully, is very tender and needs just three ingredients--flour, cream and sage. I adapted this recipe from "Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook" (Fawcett Columbine, 1993) by adding sage and slightly increasing the amount of whipping cream.

2 cups self-rising flour

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon whipping cream

1 tablespoon chopped sage

Combine flour, cream and sage in bowl and stir with fork until flour is just moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and lightly knead 5 to 6 times, just until dough holds together. Gently roll out to 1/2-inch thickness and cut with 2-inch biscuit cutter.

Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 425 degrees until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

14 to 16 biscuits. Each of 16 biscuits:

107 calories; 6 mg sodium; 22 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

CHEESE BISCUITS

Ham and cheese are a natural pair, so I added grated Cheddar to a basic baking powder biscuit as a match for hunks of smoky city ham.

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1/4 cup grated Cheddar or Swiss cheese

1 cup milk

Sift flour, salt and baking powder into large bowl. Add shortening and work into dry ingredients using your fingertips. Add cheese and toss to combine. Add milk and stir with fork until dough forms ball. Turn dough out onto floured surface and lightly knead 8 to 10 times until dough is smooth. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds and bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 450 degrees until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

18 biscuits. Each biscuit:

97 calories; 106 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.04 gram fiber.

CORNMEAL BISCUITS

I developed these slightly sweet biscuits to match the saltiness of country ham. The cornmeal adds a nice crunch.

1 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup cornmeal or polenta plus extra for dusting pan

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2/3 cup milk

Sift flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and sugar into large bowl. Add shortening and work into dry ingredients using your fingertips. Add milk and stir with fork just until dough forms ball.

Turn out onto floured surface and lightly knead 10 to 12 times until dough is smooth. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds and bake on baking sheet lightly dusted with cornmeal in 425 degree oven until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

18 biscuits. Each biscuit:

108 calories; 164 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.06 gram fiber.

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