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buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free II

“Biscuits in the oven going to watch em rise…
right before my very eyes.
Hey hey.”

We have been dancing around here, to music we never expected to love.

Our friend Monique gave us a cd before Little Bean was born, telling me it was one of her kids’ favorites. When I saw the name, I wanted to cringe, but I resisted. Raffi. I had heard of him, and I thought he was cheesy. I had a flash image of concerts with kids in the audience, all waving flags, everyone singing music that the parents couldn’t stand to hear again. Before Little Bean was born, I swore we would never listen to music meant just for kids. Instead, we’d teach her how to sing with Johnny Cash, and Alison Kraus, and Elvis Costello. All our favorite music was good enough for her, right?

So I took the disc and thanked Monique and tucked it away.

One afternoon, about a month ago, Little Bean was crying. It was late afternoon, the time when babies grow fussy, mysteriously. (Does anyone know why that is?) She’s such a sunny little being, with the wide-open eyes and tiny pursed mouth of a cartoon character, that her crying took me by surprise. I went through the usual routine to soothe her. Nothing worked. I danced her around the room to Prince, which had just come on the iPod. She was having none of that. We went outside. I took her in the kitchen to smell herbs. She jiggled on my knee. I tried to stay calm, which calmed her for a moment, but she went right back to crying in jagged sobs.

Exhausted, I remembered Monique’s present. I flipped Baby Beluga into the cd player and turned it on. I swear, from the first high-pitched squeaks and giggles of the whale in the opening moments, Little Bean was transfixed. She forgot to cry. She started to smile.

“Hell with it,” I thought, sinking back into the couch cushions. “Kids’ music is fine.”

When “Day-O” came on, I started to sing, exaggerating every syllable with my mouth, like Harry Belafonte on steroids with a face made out of rubber. Little Bean looked up at me, and she stayed looking. At that point, she only made glancing eye contact. The Chef and I both longed for her stare, the adoring eyes. Until that moment, the ceiling captured all her grins. But when I sang to her, the words tumbled from my memory, even though I didn’t know I held them. As she bounced on my knee, she watched my mouth, looked at my eyes, and took me in, for the longest time since the day of her birth.

That was the point I began to love Raffi.

Since then, the Chef and I have been playing this album for her every day. She loves it every time, her eyebrows flinging upward, her feet beginning to kick. Each song makes her happy (except for one called Joshua Giraffe, which goes dark and stormy in the middle, and she cries every time). She always dances.

Here’s what we never expected, however. The Chef and I are hooked on this music.

He’ll call me from the restaurant and say, “I’ve been singing that one song all day.”
“Which one?”
Now, normally, the answer might be some sappy country music song we heard on the radio on the way to work that made us both teary. Or some old song by the Clash that mirrors any anger in our minds. Or any of two dozen Beatles songs that are important to us.
But lately, it has been: “You know, that jaunty one, how oats and beans and barley grow.”
And I start whistling, right away.

(I’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that barley contains gluten. We’ll come up with another grain when she’s older.)

These are great songs. I’m not kidding. They’re funny and loving, memorable and whistle-able. (I don’t care if that’s not a real word.) And more than that, they are the kind of music we want Little Bean to listen to, as she’s growing into this world.

One of the songs, “Thanks a Lot,” feels like the only kind of prayer we’re likely to say around the dinner table. A traditional song that Raffi sings so sweetly, “To Everyone in All the World” reminds me every time that our political system would be mighty much better if we lived like this: “I may not know the lingo/but I can say by jingo/no matter where you live, we can shake hands.” And perhaps for obvious reasons, one song makes me cry every time:

“All I really need is a song in my heart
food in my belly
and love in my family.”

Whenever that one comes on, the Chef and I scoop up Little Bean, hold her in our arms, and dance her around the living room, singing.

Okay, so we have become those parents. And you know what? We don’t care. Little Bean has been in this world for less than three months, and already she has encouraged us to let go of ridiculous expectations. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it: we love Raffi. If he were still giving concerts, we’d be first in line to wave flags and sing earnest songs that we still love to hear.

(So if any of you have recommendations for great kids’ music that’s still pretty damned cool for parents, we’d love to hear them.)

Besides, the best song on the disc is all about biscuits. “Biscuits in the oven, going to watch ’em rise….” After weeks of singing this to Little Bean, I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to make biscuits.

I remember my mom making biscuits from scratch some evenings. Now, I realize she used Bisquick as the base. What does that matter? She still put them together with her capable hands, cut through the pillowy dough with an antique cutter given to her by her mother, and pulled the golden warmth from the oven to our oohs and ahhs. I remember standing beside her in the kitchen one day, when I was about seven or eight, and watching her hands make biscuits. They seemed so sure, so reassuring. I wondered if I would ever be that strong.

Now, I look down at my hands, almost exact replicas of my mother’s at my age. And I wonder if, a few years from now, when I am making gluten-free biscuits inspired by the Raffi song, Little Bean will look at my hands and wonder what hers will look like when she is an adult.

I found, this week, that I had to create a gluten-free recipe that worked for me. The first two years of living gluten-free, I didn’t really care that much about baked goods. But now that our darling, hilarious daughter is here, I realize I want to make her biscuits some evenings and have her ooh and ahh at the warmth I am pulling out of the oven with my hands.

“When they get ready going to jump and shout
roll my eyes and bug them out.
Hey hey.”

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free


Of course, the only problem with baking biscuits in this house after hearing that song is that gluten-free biscuits simply don’t rise the way that regular biscuits do. Why? No gluten. That doesn’t mean they can’t be darned fine, however.

I’ve been baking biscuits for days around here, cutting butter into different flours and waiting in anticipation for the moment I could open the oven door. The first batch was horribly disappointing — the expected gluten-free hockey puck. But I love this trial and error process. Every batch taught me something different. And by the time I crafted the recipe you see below, I really was jumping and shouting to see them, like Raffi sings in the song.

The egg white takes the place of the protein gluten provides to a baked good. Lately, I’ve been finding that just a bit of egg white gives strength and structure to gluten-free goods.

I’m pleased with the softness of these biscuits, the fluffy center with air holes, and the crispness of the bottoms. They’re a little bit pillowy, and a little bit crusty. Frankly, I’m glad I found the recipe I like, because I have to stop eating so many biscuits now.

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
3/4 cup buttermilk (give or take a bit)

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Combine all the flours, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir them up well so they are one. Sift them into a large bowl.

Cut the butter into small pieces and drop them into the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (also known as a pastry cutter), or two forks if you don’t own the fancier tool, cut the butter into the flours. You should have a good blend, with the butter the size of small peas, by the end.

Froth up the egg white with a fork or small whisk. You are not looking to make meringue here. Simply whip some air and volume into the egg white.

Pour the egg white and the buttermilk into the dry mixture. Stir them in slowly with a rubber spatula, taking care to not overwork the dough. When the liquids are incorporated into the flours, stop stirring. Bring it all together with your hands.

Drop small balls of the biscuit dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. (I prefer these biscuits small, about the size of a plum, to help the middles bake through.) Slide the tray into the oven.

Bake the biscuits for about 20 to 25 minutes. Test for your own version of doneness.

Makes about 8 biscuits.