They wake me up
Lately we’ve had a lot of friends passing through, lots of changes of sheets on the guest bed. Sam has been around a bit. Ben, our friend who moved here a couple of years ago but was quickly wooed away by work, is doing a short-term gig nearby and comes around on his days off. And Ryan, who also lived here briefly and was wooed away, is flying in tonight for a visit. The bourbon in the bottle is two fingers lower than it was last week, and the apartment feels nice, lived-in. Most days, days when we don’t have house guests, I spend long stretches of time alone, working. I like the quiet. I don’t need a lot of company. But then someone comes into town, or maybe only across town, with a pint of Coffee Heath Bar Crunch and the first season of Mad Men, and we squeeze on the couch with the dog who growls because we’ve stolen his spot, and we all know to ignore him because we’ve heard it before, we’ve done this before, many times, and then I realize how much I’ve missed my friends. They wake me up from wherever I’ve been.
This was the scene on Sunday morning, and that’s Ben’s leg there, and the edge of his napkin, after what I believe can only be called a biscuit feed. Ben’s wife Bonnie is out of frame, and Brandon, I believe, had retired to the couch by this point. You will note that there are no biscuits in sight, and that is because we ate them. But you know what biscuits look like. You don’t need a picture.
I don’t think there’s anything I like cooking quite as much as breakfast for house guests. Because if they’re sleeping in our house, we’re obviously fond of them, and who better to cook for than the people you’re fond of? Especially at the start of the day, when everyone is still a little soft, before any crap gets in the way. You can hear them coming up the stairs from the guest room-slash-dungeon in the basement, trying to be quiet, and then the shower turns on, and while it runs, you can sneak out of bed and into the kitchen and grind the coffee, boil the water, get started. You might even remember that you bought some very foxy tangelos, real supermodels, stems and leaves still attached, and decide to put them in a bowl on the table. Tangelos go with biscuits. Biscuits go with raspberry jam and a giant vat of honey.
The biscuits on the table on Sunday were Marion Cunningham’s, of course, because that’s how I’m doing things this year. This woman is teaching me so much! Like that cream biscuits are virtually impossible to mess up. Impossible! Even if you, like me, become convinced that you messed up the recipe and want to throw away the dough without even baking it and your husband and house guests have to talk you down by promising to eat said biscuits, no matter how bad they are. Which they aren’t. They’re outstanding.
Cunningham says that these biscuits belong in your permanent recipe file, and she is right about that. I’ve tried a lot of biscuit recipes, and this is my new go-to, easy. It is not for those seeking a light breakfast – the amount of cream and butter is, shall we say, festive – but it feels light going down, if that makes any difference. And it’s an epic biscuit: perfectly salted, tender-crumbed, so flaky that you can pull it apart in fine, lacy sheets.
I can say all of this, and I’m actually pretty sure I didn’t even make them quite right. I don’t think I used enough cream – the amount called for is a range – and so my dough felt tough and heavy, and by the time I started to worry, I had already worked it too much to go back and add more cream. The biscuits looked puny going into the oven. Very sad, flat, unpromising pucks. But then! In the heat of the oven, they puffed to about three times their original height, and maybe even four. Yeow. What I’m trying to say is, you can’t screw this up. No one can screw this up. And first thing in the morning, that – that, and the company of a few favorite faces – might be the most a person can hope for.
Adapted from The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham
These are terrific with jam or, of course, honey.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (If you don’t have parchment, leave it as it is, ungreased. The parchment is just for easy cleanup.)
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl, and stir with a fork to blend. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream, stirring. Gather the dough together gently: when it holds together and feels tender, it’s ready to knead. If it feels shaggy and pieces are dry, slowly add enough cream to make the dough hold together.
Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute. (You don’t want to overwork it.) Pat the dough into a square about ½ inch thick. Cut into 12 squares. Brush each with melted butter so that all sides are coated. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve hot.
Yield: 12 biscuits