The famous photographer Yosuf Karsh wisely said that “character, like a photograph, develops in the dark.” We know this, don’t we? That it’s against the dark that we’re able to appreciate the light? Mary Oliver has more to say on this—as she tends to do—and her words are at the end of this post, and worth a read.
I suppose then, since we’re talking biscuits today, you could say: “Po, does that mean that we must go without biscuits for days in order to appreciate them when we bake them?”
And I would say “no, pumpkin, no” (in the deadpan British accent of Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding). See, biscuits are an entirely different category. They are covered by a separate rule which I like to call the “more is more” rule. Or—if you need further convincing—consider that practice makes perfect, and your biscuits will be exceptionally flaky and high-rising once you master the gentle folding technique required to get the right height.
The trick with biscuits—and how you get such excellent layers—is to not overmix the dough. You want it to look slightly too shaggy and messy. Resist the urge to mix and press it together with your hands more before shaping it. You’ll think it looks too dry in spots and too wet in other spots, but that’s just right.
At that point, turn it out onto your work surface and gently fold it over onto itself again and again, pressing lightly each time. The dough will come together enough, and it’s this folding that will create all the layers.
Another reason to bake more biscuits? They’re such a fantastic blank canvas. Typically we see savory biscuits, or plain ones, but there are so many killer sweet combinations to try. Like today, I upped the sugar slightly in my regular recipe, and added lemon zest and poppy seeds.
I brushed the tops with melted butter and sprinkled them with sugar and flaky sea salt (a touch of salt to finish is always a good idea with sweet baked goods). In order to really get the lemon flavor to come through, I like to rub some of the lemon zest into the sugar before mixing the sugar into the dough—this releases the oil from the zest, perfuming the dough more uniformly. I also add some zest later on with the poppy seeds (again, note, more is more).
And while we’re on the subject of poppies, here is Mary Oliver’s beautiful, soul-stirring poem for your weekend:
The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation
of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t
sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,
black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
loss is the great lesson.
But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
and that happiness,
when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,
touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—
and what are you going to do—
what can you do
deep, blue night?
Lemon Poppyseed Biscuits
Makes about 9 medium biscuits
zest of 3 lemons
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
3/4 cup cold milk (you may need a few extra tablespoons to bring the dough together)
flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the zest of two lemons. Rub the zest into the lemons with your fingers until very fragrant.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and lemon sugar.
Cut 10 tablespoons of the butter into the dry ingredients using a fork or pastry cutter until it's in mostly pea-sized chunks -- some chunks can be slightly larger and some smaller, but don't overwork it.
Add the remaining lemon zest and poppy seeds and stir to combine.
Add the milk, stir the dough with a fork until it is somewhat evenly moistened, then knead it a few times in the bowl so it mostly comes together in a ball but don't overwork it at all. It should not be cohesive and there should be chunks of drier areas and some wetter areas.
Turn the dough out onto the parchment-lined sheet, and fold it over onto itself until there aren't any dry spots remaining. Don't think of this as kneading: You want to handle it gently and as you fold, the wet/dry areas will disappear. Fold about 10 times, then gently press the dough down to a disk about 2 inches high.
Using a round biscuit cutter, cut the dough into 2" circles and separate them slightly on the baking sheet.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and brush it over the tops of the biscuits. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of sugar and flaky sea salt.
Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool slightly, then eat!