When I got married, there was no question about who would make my wedding cake: Johnnie Gabriel. That’s her in the picture, setting up my wedding cake.
She’s the cake lady. Really. She uses old-school recipes that she bought from the original Marietta Cake Lady and she makes everything from scratch (except for the raspberry filling that I had her use in my cake… it’s imported from France). She also requires an in-person, 1 1/2 hour conversation with you before she’ll agree to create your cake. It was probably my favorite hour and a half I spent talking about my wedding during the entire planning process, because we actually spent more time talking about food in general than my wedding. She had this huge binder of pictures of beautiful wedding cakes she’d done over the years, and I understand that the goal of this meeting was for me to communicate very clearly what I expected my “big day” cake would look like. Our conversation about my cake went something like this:
JG: And what are your colors for the big day?
LBD: um… pretty ones?
JG: **blank stare**
LBD: I told you I was weird and this will be a strange wedding. I have one bridesmaid and she’s picking out her dress. She can go with whatever color she wants, so whatever color she goes with, I guess that’ll be my color. Probably something blue. It’s a good color for her.
JG: I see. Flowers?
LBD: Eh. Guess I’ll pick some up at some point. I’m not that worried about it.
JG: So, you’re not going to decorate with flowers at your wedding?
LBD: Yeah, probably not. It’s at a brewery. So, there’ll be a lot of beer. I’m sure the flowers would just get overlooked.
JG: And what about your linens?
LBD: Um, I guess we’ll just use whatever the barbecue place gives us. Paper plates & napkins. So, white, I guess?
LBD: But you have made some beautiful wedding cakes. These are gorgeous pictures.
JG: Thank you. So what would you like in terms of decorations on your cake?
LBD: Well, you can put pink flamingos on the thing for all I care. I came to you because I want the best cake I’ve ever eaten. As long as it tastes amazing, I don’t care what it looks like.
JG: Okay then. So in terms of icing…
LBD: Buttercream. Lots of buttercream. I know fondant looks beautiful, but I’m not ordering this cake to look at. I plan to eat a lot of it.
JG: (finally smiles and nods) Good girl.
The rest of our pre-wedding-cake-baking conversation kept going back to her new cookbook, the proper way to make cooked caramel and chocolate fillings for cakes (her words: “don’t even bother trying it until you’ve got your stand mixer. You did register for one of those, I hope?”) and biscuits. I will always remember her saying that she was worried that “one of these days, there won’t be anyone left who knows how to make biscuits. Everyone buys the freezer versions now. And it’s just not the same.”
Incase you’re wondering why I’ve been obsessed with learning how to make the perfect biscuit… that conversation was why. In that moment, I made up my mind that I would learn how to make a biscuit from scratch and teach others to do so also.
I’m so happy to say that I think I’ve finally figured out biscuits. Rather, I’ve found a recipe that’s worked for me the past 4 times I’ve made them, even when I made them at Lindsey’s house in a different oven and under different circumstances.
After testing and re-testing and thinking and evaluating a number of different biscuit recipes over the past year (with more on the list to try sometime soon), I’ve decided that biscuit making is an art. A technique. Something to be valued. Something that can’t really be explained in a written down recipe. It’s a skill that should be passed down from one generation to the next from people who know what they’re doing. The women in my family have been making biscuits longer than I have been alive, and this recipe I’ve made up really isn’t anything to brag about. But, they are decent biscuits. And I like them, and Dave likes them. When I find the recipe that stands up to 15, 20, or 30 years of baking & keeping my family happy, then maybe I’ll have something truly amazing to share with y’all. For now, though, you can try these & see what you think.
(makes 4-5 biscuits)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use White Lily) plus 1/2 cup extra for kneading
3/4 Tablespoon baking powder
about 1/2 teaspoon table salt (kosher doesn’t work so well for me)
2 Tablespoons Crisco shortening, kept refrigerated, and once measured, placed in the freezer for 5 minutes before using
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, cold, placed in freezer for 5 minutes before using
scant 1/2 cup 2% milk
Preheat your oven to 450 (non-convection) or 425 (convection). Prepare a baking dish: I use a silpat, but you can use a pan, or baking sheet that’s been covered with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder with a fork. Remove shortening and butter from freezer immediately before using, and dump into the flour mixture. Using your hands, mix together until the fat is incorporated. Don’t overwork the flour. Don’t overwork the dough. The dough will not be homogenous. The fat will not be perfectly, evenly spread throughout the flour. That’s okay. Make a well in the center, add in the milk slowly, and stir with the fork.
Dump the batter onto a lightly floured work surface, and start to knead. Take in more flour if the dough is too sticky. You should see little flecks of butter that didn’t quite get mixed in well enough. That’s what you want. Buttery goodness.
Pat the dough out to about 1/2″ thickness. Using some sort of biscuit cutter (or wine glass dipped in flour), cut your biscuits and place on baking sheet. This will sound odd, but place them as close together as you can. Don’t spread them out. Make sure their edges are touching as much as possible. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until tops are golden brown.
Break ’em open, butter ’em up and enjoy.