Sunday, January 24, 2010

Best Breakfast - recipe #1

Are there any foods you grew up eating all the time?  Foods that bring you comfort and make you think about the loving person who made them for you?  Breakfast is a big meal at our house.  And it so happens that some of my favorite food memories are of breakfast, particularly breakfast with my Great Grandmother.  I called her Neama.  I grew up until the 6th grade living about a half hour from her house.  She and my Grandmother were next store neighbors and my brother and I would stay with them for whole weekends at a time and get spoiled rotten.  Neama would sit in her rocking chair, watch The Guiding Light, and let me pretend she was a baby.  I would do her hair, feed her pretend things, scold her...It was great.  

Neama would always do a big breakfast for us and the menu was reliable -- half a grapefruit covered in sugar so it was sweet and juicy; soft-boiled eggs chopped with a bit of butter and crumbled bacon; and "sugar bread"  (a slice of thickly buttered white bread coated with more than a tablespoon of sugar!)  I know it must sound unappealing and I would probably gag on it if I tried it again, but trust me nothing tasted better to me back then.  I didn't know what a calorie or a fat gram was.  I just enjoyed the good food and  the ritual of it all.  It was always the same and always prepared with love and ceremony as if my brother and I were the King and Queen. 

The special breakfast in my house is homemade buttermilk drop biscuits.  The kids would eat them every day if I was willing to bake that often.  Although they are very easy, I only make these occasionally and I try to save them for the weekends when all five of us are together.  As a result, they're considered special.  I know that there is no way that my biscuits will have the power of Neama's breakfasts.  It takes grandparents to make something that special.  But I think my kids will grow up remembering these biscuits.  They're flaky and soft, sweet with a little jelly, and just dry enough to make a glass of cold milk taste like it did when you were little.

They are also really, really easy.  If you've been an overnight guest at my house, you have probably had these.  Two things make them easier than traditional biscuit recipes.  One: there is no rolling and cutting of the dough. These are drop biscuits.  They are supposed to look craggy and ill-formed.  Two: there is no cutting-in of cold butter into dry flour and no worrying about whether things are being overworked and getting tough.  The ingenious authors of this recipe figured out the most clever trick to breaking the butter into small bits and integrating it into the flour.  You melt the butter in the microwave then add icy buttermilk to it.  The cold buttermilk causes the melted butter to congeal into semi-solid clumps that you pour over the flour and stir into a soft batter.  The small bits of butter melt during baking and leave little air pockets behind so the biscuits are soft and fluffy. 

These biscuits whip up quick and they're always a hit.  This recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated.  They have a show on PBS called America's Test Kitchen.  The magazine is one of the greatest publications around if you really like cooking and want to learn more about it.  Each recipe comes with an article describing how the recipe was created and why it works. 

Best Drop Biscuits

 Makes 12 Biscuits.   Published November 1, 2007.   From Cook's Illustrated. 

cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
teaspoons baking powder
teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon sugar
teaspoon table salt
cup buttermilk (cold)
tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly (about 5 minutes), plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing biscuit


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps (see photo below).
  2. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure, scoop level amount of batter and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (biscuits should measure about 2 1/4 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches high). Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes.
  3. Brush biscuit tops with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving.


    1. Ahhhh ... breakfast with Neema (and in my generation her older sister, Fannie a.k.a. "Clucky"). It's a credit to our genes and their longevity that we can share such a memory. Thank you for that.

      You grew up 1/2 hr. away ... and I grew up right next door. By today's dietary sensibilities "sugar bread" must sound awful, but for a kid then it was *fabulous*. I grew up thinking it an impossibility to eat a grapefruit without a generous layer of granulated sugar on the top.

      Neema was from the semi-rural south (outside Charlottesville, VA) and that's the way she cooked. Bacon was well done, pancakes had a black edge all around the perimeter, coffee was boiled at high speed in an aluminum percolator pot until it approached something akin to java syrup.

      And if you made it to lunch ... she made a BLT sandwich that was transcendent.

    2. The power of food memories. My question is, will you be making "sugar bread" for your grandchild?