October 14, 2011

care for tea and biscuit?

If you have read my blog with any regularity, you'll know I am a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series. Anne and Gilbert made my list of top 10 favorite couples in literature in Project Boy Meets Girl. Diana Barry appears on my current countdown of Project BFF.

I was bound to bring my love of these book into the kitchen. For this week's post I did.

I did a quick Google search of "Anne of Green Gables recipes" and was pleased to discover that there is a whole cookbook for it. Apparently, the recipes are actually ones carried down by L.M. Montgomery's grandchildren. It sounded pretty legit to me.

Afternoon Ruby Tea Biscuits were one of the recipes I found. I decided to save the others for another week, but after making apple butter for another Reading in the Kitchen post, I loved the idea of bringing a previous dish back to help another.

In book one, Anne of Green Gables, the biscuits are featured during one of the teas Anne has. I could practically hear Marilla's voice telling me to make them.

You need these ingredients, according to the recipe:
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup jam or 1/2 cup jelly, red

For starters, I was excited to see that I would get to break out my sifter. Back on my first Reading in the Kitchen post, I bought a few baking supplies that I thought I would need to make Green Pumpkin Pie. Turns out, you don't need a sifter for pie crust, and I have no idea why I bought one. I was relieved to learn I would actually get to put that unused tool to work.

After preheating the oven to 425 degrees, I sifted the flour into a bowl, then I mixed in the other dry ingredients with a fork. Then, using the technique my Mom taught me by phone when I made that Green Pumpkin Pie crust, I cut in 1/2 a cup of vegetable shortening.

Unfortunately, it was at this point I realized I didn't have milk in my fridge. I'm not really a milk drinker, because it always smells sour to me. I can't drink something that smells gross, so I just don't keep it in stock. (Since this happened, I went out an bought soy milk, which I can handle, and have decided to keep it in my fridge at all times in case this happens again). This didn't help me when I was making the recipe, though, and I refused to run to the store for that one ingredient.

So I called Mom. She assured me that I could get by using water, or juice, as a substitute for the biscuit. I still had some cider in the fridge from my Nebraska City apple picking adventure, and because I was going to use apple butter later, I went ahead and threw it in the bowl. Luck was on my side, because it worked.

I ditched the fork and finished mixing and kneading the dough until it formed a ball. The recipe called to knead it 12 times, but I'll confess I didn't keep track. I went until it felt right, both physically and emotionally. I let it sit on a floured surface for a few minute while I took a break to drink a glass of wine with a friend who came over to taste test the goods.

After finishing my glass, I returned to the rested dough, which didn't look any different to me than it had before I took the required break. Maybe something magical happened to it in that time, but I couldn't tell from the looks of it. I'm not a scientist or a private detective, so I didn't research this any more. If any of you can tell me why I let it sit and what chemically happened during that time, I'd be much obliged to know.

I rolled the dough to be about 1/4 inch thick as directed. Next came the fun part. According to the recipe, you are supposed to use a large biscuit cutter to make circles close together. You move half of them to a greased cookie sheet, then use a small cutter to make a hole in the center of the other circles, which makes rings.

Biscuit cutter? Seriously? I didn't even have a sifter until I accidentally bought one on sale a month ago.

Fortunately, I'm good at improvisation (In the kitchen, not musically. Ask my high school band director and he'll assure you I didn't bring much to the group in the way of creativity my one year in jazz band.) I searched through my cupboards to find cups or glasses of varying sizes, which I could use to make the circles.

This is what I came up with.

Yes. That is a whiskey glass and a shot glass. I may not have much in the way of baking or cooking utensils, but if you want to mix a drink and serve it in the appropriate glassware, I'm your gal. I have martini glasses, stemless and stemmed wine glasses (white and red in each), margarita glasses, and so on sitting downstairs in the Barbrary.

I got off track explaining the glassware situation, but the point is, the whiskey and shot glasses did the trick. I dipped each glass in flour to make sure the dough didn't stick to the rim, and I went to work.

After cutting out the circles and then making half of them into rings — note, I did have to re-roll the dough two more times to have enough to do the trick — I placed the rings on top of the solid circles. This creates an empty space in the middle where you put the jam, or in this case apple butter.

Worried the apple butter might seep out of the uncooked biscuits and make a mess of themselves, I popped the biscuits in the oven for 5 minutes. I removed them (burning my hand in my excitement at how they looked). I then scooped teaspoon amounts of apple butter into the little wells and put them back in the oven.

I baked them for a total of 12 minutes, though the recipe said they could stay in for as long as 15.

My friend Kaitlin was at my house when I took them out of the oven. They smell like fresh-baked bread and apple butter.

"So good," Kaitlin said. "It's that apple butter on it. The biscuits are good, but..." "I feel so spoiled I got to eat it."

Delighted with the feedback, I sent her home with a couple of the biscuits that didn't fit on the plate I had to take them to a jewelery party at my sister's house the next night. (I'm all about presentation.)

Both my Broomie and my sister thought they were delicious, too, when I asked them to try it.

Initially, I enjoyed it, too. Kind of. For what they are, they're great. The biscuits are nice and flaky, but not at all dry. The apple butter is fantastic, and combined it tasted wonderful both warm and cool the next day.

When I read the book, I imagined tea biscuits to be more cake-like. There's no good explanation for this, but I always thought people ate cake with tea (a wrong assumption I assure you). I guess I felt a little like Anne did when she saw diamonds for the first time and discovered they weren't purple, but white.

However, by the next day and the second time I tried the biscuits, I decided they were delicious. I would definitely make them again. They were easy and fun enough that I would recommend people use this recipe with their children who like to bake.

I'd probably buy a biscuit cutter first, though. I wouldn't feel right making my friends' kids use bar glasses for their cooking adventures.

Thank you for reading this week's post. To see any of the other recipes I've tried out as part of Reading in the Kitchen, or to learn more about the series, click on the tab at the top of the page.

Please leave comment and tell me what you think — especially if you try it yourself — or follow me on Twitter @lmchap. We'll be back for another recipe next week.

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