Recipe: Baking biscuits for One Day in History

Photo by Charity Robey | Tender, crunchy Sleepy Creek biscuits are great as is, but a little butter and honey is also acceptable.

Photo by Charity Robey | Tender, crunchy Sleepy Creek biscuits are great as is, but a little butter and honey is also acceptable.

I love to bake bread, and sometimes I daydream about working in a bakery. I imagine myself pulling lovely brown loaves out of the oven by the dozens, as the fragrance wafts through the kitchen.

So when I volunteered to make bread for the Shelter Island Historical Society’s “One Day in History” bake sale, the reality of baking more than two loaves at a time came crashing in on me like an over-proofed, sourdough “hockey puck.”

This year’s event had a Civil War reenactment as the central event of the day. In my kitchen on that long Friday afternoon, it felt like the siege of Vicksburg.

To make the quantity of bread I wanted, I had to feed my sourdough starter increasing amounts of flour and water for days. The vat of starter I confronted the morning of baking day bubbled like a volcano and periodically gave off exhalations of gas that popped the top off the container.

Later, blobs of dough flew through the air like cannonballs. The heat from the stone in my 450-degree oven radiated throughout the house for six hours. My hound left his usual spot by the kitchen table in despair.

When the air cleared of smoke and whole wheat flour, I was left with eight loaves of bread. As I sat and rested, I looked at the seething bowl of leftover, ripe sourdough starter, and it looked back at me. One of us was still very lively.

It’s a shame to waste good starter, so I summoned my strength and reached for a recipe that my friend, Julia Reidhead, got from her sister, Ginny. Ginny Teitt is a Presbyterian minister and mother of seven, who lives on a farm in Marysville, Ohio. For decades, she has made Sleepy Creek sourdough biscuits for family meals, from Christmas dinner to Saturday breakfast. With no kneading, folding or proofing, they make for a much less intensive kitchen experience than eight loaves of sourdough bread. These biscuits are one of the best ways to cook with sourdough that I have found.

My fantasy of working as a baker has passed. Maybe I’ll stick to baking biscuits, or make two loaves at a time — until next year.

Island-based bakers looking for sourdough starter can contact me at charity_robey@verizon.net.

Sleepy Creek Sourdough Biscuits

Adapted by Ginny Teitt from “Ann’s Sourdough Biscuits” during a vacation at Sleepy Creek, South Carolina

Makes 18 to 24 biscuits

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup milk

1 cup ripe sourdough starter

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 to 2 tablespoons cornmeal

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment, or grease and sprinkle with a bit of cornmeal.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar together. Cut in the shortening with two knives or a pastry blender to the consistency of coarse crumbs.

3. In another bowl, combine milk and sourdough starter. Stir into flour mixture until just combined.

4. Gently roll to 1/2 inch thick and cut into rounds with 2-inch biscuit cutter, or into squares with a bench knife.

5. Arrange on the prepared pan with sides touching, and allow the bisquits to sit in a warm spot for up to 30 minutes until they puff up slightly.

6. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cornmeal. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.