Home Ec: How to Measure Ingredients Properly

There is nothing I like more than cooking with a roomful of sweet girls who are eager to learn. Their beautiful smiles are so refreshing. I was lucky that five new cousins all wanted to come by and learn to make biscuits over their Thanksgiving break. They used The Biscuit King biscuit recipe from my first blog post.  This delightful adventure turned into a little Home Ec lesson…

1) Wash your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song.
2) Set all of your ingredients out on the countertop before you start. home ec making biscuits
3) Place a sheet of parchment paper on your work space for easy clean up later. You can buy a boxful of 1000 sheets for under $40 at restaurant supply stores. I use them to line cookie sheets and roasting pans and to wrap sandwiches.  After two years, I’ve barely made a dent in this box.
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4) How to measure dry ingredients:
Spoon flour into a one cup “dry measure” until it is heaped high above the rim.
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Sweep the flat edge of a knife across the rim of the cup; what remains is a level cup of flour.
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Measure salt in the same way, carefully filling the measuring spoon so it overflows a little and then using a knife to level the top. Never measure directly over your mixing bowl, tempting as that may be.
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5) How to measure fats (Crisco, lard or butter):
Using a spatula, place a blob of shortening in a measuring cup and pack it in. Use a knife to remove the excess shortening off the top, so you have a level 1/3 cup.
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6) Mixing ingredients:
Using two forks, or a pastry blender, mix the fat into the dry ingredients.
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home ec making biscuits
Mix together until the flour feels crumbly, and some of the pieces are the size of baby peas.
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7) How to measure liquid ingredients:
“Liquid measures” are pitchers, made of glass or plastic, with a spout for pouring. To use, place the pitcher on a level surface, and measure liquid using the gradation marks on the side of the glass. Liquid measuring cups are used to measure volume not weight. In this case, we are measuring 8 fluid ounces (1 cup) of buttermilk.
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8) The girls stirred the ingredients in their bowls for 15-20 strokes, just enough to get all the ingredients moist. Do not overmix or else the gluten protein in the flour will start to become too sticky and your biscuits will become tough.
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9) Using a spatula, the girls scooped their mounds of dough onto the floured parchment paper.
home ec making biscuits
The dough was a little too sticky to easily manage, so the girls added more flour to their hands, the rolling surface and the biscuit cutters. They rolled the dough out to 3/4 of an inch high.
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10) The girls used a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter to shape the biscuits. Some of the dough was a little too sticky, and we simply dropped it by the spoonful onto the baking sheet rather than continue to add flour and mix it any further.
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This was fine. The biscuits were all delicious! Great job girls!
home ec making biscuits
On measuring flour:
Many of my grandmother’s old recipes list flour measurements in pounds instead of cups. Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you with pounds to cups conversions. I also did a little experiment- if you scoop your dry measuring cup into the flour instead of spooning the flour into the dry measure, the flour in the packed cup will weigh almost an ounce more. Something to keep in mind if you have recipes for cakes and cookies that don’t turn out well.

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Special thanks to my lovely group of budding chefs who are in grades two through seven: Sirina, Amelia, Lara, Leela, and Ana! Special guest appearance by Alexander.

Other how-tos on the blog:
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
The Navel Mary Way: How to Peel an Orange
How to Make a Thaw Detector for the Freezer
Got Jellybeans? Your Sense of Smell

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© 2014 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

The Biscuit King

A few weeks ago our Mennonite friends in Kentucky invited us to watch them make sweet sorghum syrup. Sorghum is similar to molasses but has a much earthier taste with a touch of sourness. It can be used cup for cup in any recipe calling for molasses, honey, or corn syrup. Having said all that, in the South, if you give a friend some sorghum, they’re going to want a biscuit, a light, crunchy biscuit.

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I anointed my husband, the Southerner, the biscuit maker, knowing he had watched his mother make biscuits for years. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite as easy to make as he remembered. The first batch was fraught with problems: they were dry and hard, much like hockey pucks. From the rolling hills and gorgeous lakes of KY, I went online and begged our Facebook friends to tell us what went wrong. Their suggestions poured in. Futzing around in the kitchen, with the goal of making a good biscuit, became our vacation vocation.

Making biscuits was the first food I learned to cook in Home Ec at Dartmouth Middle School in 1968. Our classroom consisted of four brand spankin’ new kitchens lined up in a row along the wall. Our gray-haired teacher, Ms. Harriman, rarely left her chair, but her desk was like a pulpit, and we girls did as instructed while she sat and taught. Ms. Harriman did not miss a thing, and you did not want to be the one to make her get-out-of-her-chair.  Strict as she was, we had fun learning to measure ingredients properly and make uncomplicated meals. Home Ec, with cooking classes one semester and sewing lessons the next, quickly became my favorite class.

Thinking back, I’m almost positive you couldn’t buy the light, silky, self-rising flour required for our biscuit recipe in Massachusetts back in the 1960’s. To make “quick” breads like these biscuits, we used a sifter to combine the all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder. White Lily Flour, a Southern kitchen staple, is an even lighter version of all-purpose, or “plain” flour, as it was known in the South. It is milled from soft winter wheat that has a lower protein and gluten content than the hard wheat milled for all-purpose flour. If you don’t have any self-rising flour, you could substitute 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt.  Additionally, for the fat in biscuit recipes, you could use either shortening, butter, or lard. I haven’t tried cooking with lard yet, but I’ve been told it makes the best biscuits and pie crusts. In a pinch, if you are out of buttermilk you could mix 1 cup of milk with one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice and let it stand for about 5 minutes. The sour mixture that results is what gives buttermilk the tangy taste we love for baking. Did you know that traditional  “butter” milk was the thin residual liquid left over after butter was churned from milk? The buttermilk we buy today is cultured and has been fermented and pasteurized.

Ingredients:

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2 cups self-rising flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1⁄3 cup all-vegetable shortening, lard, or butter, chilled
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:
1) Preheat oven to 500º
2) Lightly flour a large baking sheet. You can use the self-rising flour for this.
3) Mix together flour, salt, and shortening with a pastry cutter, whisk, or two knives.

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4) Add buttermilk and mix with a fork until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Do not overwork the dough. The airiness in a biscuit is created by the holes left when shortening flecks melt and create pockets of steam. If you overmix the dough, you’ll lose those air pockets. The dough will be sticky.

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5) Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface or a sheet of parchment paper, for easy cleanup.

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6) Using floured hands, gently shape the dough into a disc. The way this delicately soft mound of dough feels in your hands is heavenly.

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7) Flour the rolling pin and gently roll out the dough until it is ¾ inch thick. Alternatively, you could press the dough out with your fingertips.

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8) Dust the edges of either a 2-inch or 3-inch biscuit cutter with flour and cut your biscuits. Place on a floured baking sheet. A 2-inch cutter will yield 16 biscuits, and a 3-inch cutter will yield 12.

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9) If you want the biscuits to have soft sides, arrange them on a baking sheet, so their sides touch. If you want crunchy sides, arrange them about one inch apart. At this point, you could put the pan of uncooked biscuits in the freezer to freeze. Once frozen, put the biscuits in a freezer bag until ready to bake.

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10) Bake at 500º for 5 minutes and then turn the oven off.  Without opening the oven door (and letting out 20% of the oven’s heat) set your timer for 3 minutes. When done, the biscuits should be a light golden brown. If not, give them another minute or two more to bake.

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A Southern Treat:

Mix together a pat of butter and a heaping tablespoon of sorghum syrup. Spread mixture over warm biscuits.

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The Biscuit King:

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P.S. Special thanks to those who offered baking tips: Lou Ann, Robin, Anne, Libba, Stephanie, Terry, Susan, Holly M, Holly W, Mary Sue, Barbara, and Ms. H.

Toppings that go well on biscuit
How to Make Grape Jelly (and grow the grapes)
How to Make Crab Apple Jelly (and grow the crab apples)
How to Make Oven-Roasted Strawberry and Rosemary Jam (and grow the strawberries)
Raising Sorghum Cane to Make Sorghum Syrup

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© 2014 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.