Gilt church domes and brick three-flats and water towers. The 90/94 and Ozinga trucks. The sounds of buses announcing stops. Wooden decks. Telephone wires. The skyline in the distance beyond rooftops. Dead prairie grass pushing up through snow. The smell of brownies on Des Plaines. Frozen lake. Frozen face. El platforms. Alleyways. A city I never wanted, never thought I’d love so well. A city that, for years, made me feel trapped indoors for six-month stretches at a time and made me cling to my kitchen for something to control. A city that made me a cook. While the city and the winter and circumstances were overpowering me, I was making pot pies. Roasting chickens. I’ve always loved to cook, but this is the first place that’s made me need it.
When I moved here, I knew no one. Had no job, no money. But, during my very first week, I met Siggy. She was Celeste’s friend, had also moved here from New York and wasn’t sold on the Midwest yet either. Through Siggy, I met Sara. And the three of us (and often Patty, Sara’s sister) very shortly started a ritual of cooking and Project Runway every Wednesday night. Many weeks, it was the only thing that I had to do outside of my apartment. Siggy and Sara and our meals got me through that hard winter, when I was so cold and so depressed.
I guess this is just to say that cooking means a lot to me–taking care of myself; but also friendship, a way that people take care of each other.
It is also to say: Is there anything that butter can not do? Sure, it’s a stretch to say it’ll save your life, but it’ll no doubt make it a hell of a lot better. These biscuits taste like baked butter, and there’s an extreme satisfaction in the act of rolling them out, frosting them with melted butter and sea salt, and letting your whole apartment swell with the smell of them while they’re in the oven.
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cold, plus 1 tbsp.
1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for work surface
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, divided
2 tbsp. shortening, cold
1 c. buttermilk
Cut 1/2 c. of butter into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerate it along with the shortening. In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, pulse together the cake flour, 3/4 c. of the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the butter and shortening and pulse to combine, until small crumbles are present, 6 to 8 times. Add the buttermilk and pulse until a dough ball forms, about 5 to 6 times.
Dust a dry work surface with flour and have the remaining 1 c. ready for kneading. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. With floured hands, gently press the dough out into an 11-by-8-inch rectangle, about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Dust lightly with flour and gently fold it over in thirds, like a letter. Roll or press out to a 6-by-6-inch rectangle again about 2-inches thick. Cut the dough into 9 squares (2-by-2-inches each) with a pizza cutter. Transfer the biscuits to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 1/2-inch apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Melt the remaining tbsp. butter and brush tops with melted butter, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp. of sea salt.
Place baking sheet in the middle of the oven and immediately turn oven down to 450 degrees. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove biscuits to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes.