Thursday, January 3, 2008

Misadventures in Baking, Part 1

I can spend countless happy hours in the kitchen stirring a roux into chocolate brown perfection and minding a gumbo that’s chock full of the freshest ingredients I can find. But when it comes to baking, all bets are off. Baking requires a level of precision that confounds me, as I am more of an improvising, pinch-of-this-and-a-dollop-of-that style cook. Baking is a science, for crying out loud, and I, for one, am a “C” student in that subject.

But my goal is to get better. And what follows is one of my first attempts down that road.

On Christmas Eve we had smoked pork tenderloin and fresh green beans sautéed in olive oil and shallots. I felt all that savory needed to be counterbalanced by something a little sweet, so I envisioned sweet potato biscuits as the perfect -- and very regional -- accompaniment. My hope was that whatever I pulled from the oven would be as melt-in-your-mouth good as the buttery, fluffy biscuits Chef Scott Peacock turns out on fried chicken night each Tuesday at Decatur’s Watershed Restaurant. But that’s not exactly what I got. Perhaps a more baking-savvy blogger can read this and give me some tips on how to get there though.

Here’s what I did:

Armed with a copy of LSU AgCenter’s Serving Louisiana, I referred to the Sweet Potato Biscuits recipe on page 153.

Here are the ingredients:

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
6 tablespoons milk

Here’s what you do:

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix well.
2. Cut in the shortening until crumbly. I didn’t have shortening handy, so I figured Plugra -- which is, in my opinion, the butter of champions -- would work just as well and used it instead.
3. Stir in the sweet potatoes and milk. Me, I got in there with my hands too, kneading it until the ingredients were well incorporated. See?

4. Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface, then roll out until it’s ½ inch thick. Cut it with a biscuit cutter.

5. Arrange the rounds on a lightly-greased baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 1 dozen biscuits.

Here’s what I think:

Using butter instead of shortening might have been one of my first mistakes, as my mother told me after the fact that it cooks faster than shortening and could be part of the reason why the bottom of my biscuits cooked too quickly. The recipe yielded a biscuit that was borderline cookie-like in texture; it wasn’t the light, airy and buttery creation I envisioned. And perhaps I should have sprinkled in some brown sugar or cinnamon because the sweet potato taste was virtually nonexistent.

If anyone has any suggestions on how to take what I described above and turn it into an airy, sweet biscuit, please send them my way. I will publish whatever yields the best result.

1 comment:

SteamyKitchen said...

i had no idea butter and shortening cook different rates!