My son is a budding chef. Almost every day, he asks to help prepare a meal or is nearby with curious questions about what we’re doing. At eight years old, he is on his way to mastering several basic recipes, and I’m doing my best to support that journey by saying yes more often when he asks to help.
Yesterday, he asked if we could make breakfast sandwiches for breakfast this morning. I said sure and fed my sourdough starter so that there would be plenty for the buttery biscuits we often make. Usually, I am the head chef, and he is my apprentice, but seeing as how he has been observing for quite some time, I decided to be his sous chef this morning.
Biscuits are an incredible basic recipe to teach kids. There are so many baking skills involved that are necessary for any novice baker to master. A few of those skills include understanding the importance of using cold butter to achieve proper lamination, a.k.a. flaky goodness. Biscuits are easy to handle on a tray, so kids can be trusted to put the tray of biscuits into the oven (under supervision). But perhaps the biggest lesson to master is the proper measuring of dry ingredients. Queue today’s lesson.
I stood by his side and watched as he carefully measured each ingredient. He fluffed and scooped the flour with care. He carefully measured the baking powder and salt. I felt at ease and went to grab some milk from the fridge. Well, while I stepped five feet away, he measured out the baking soda. This recipe included buttermilk, so the addition of baking soda helps add more rise to the biscuits. When I returned to his side, I saw him dump a heaping measuring spoon into the bowl. The recipe called for ¾ teaspoons. He poured in more like 2-3 teaspoons. I gasped. We talked about the importance of proper ratios, especially with leaveners, but kept building our biscuit dough. It’s a mistake I don’t recall making before, so I didn’t exactly know what would happen.
The dough came together nicely. It had the right texture and feel. We cut out our two-inch biscuits with a mason jar and then put them into the hot oven. Normally, biscuits take anywhere from 12-20 minutes to bake, depending on your oven temp and size. But after six minutes in the oven, our biscuits were already browning…odd. They rose well, but the browning at only halfway through was not normal. Upon a bit of research after the fact, I was reminded that baking soda helps increase browning.
He took the biscuits out of the oven after twelve minutes. They looked done, but not normal. A small piece had fallen off onto the baking tray, and my boy snatched a taste. Quickly his excitement changed to confusion. “It tastes like a burnt pretzel,” he said. At first, I thought, maybe it was a bit overbaked. But then I looked at the biscuits. The outside was overdone, but the inside was still gummy. Weird. I let them cool slightly, and then I took a nibble of one.
Oh boy! They were not good. I mean it. They were flat out awful. I was slammed in the face by the taste of the baking soda. You’re not supposed to actually taste baking soda. It’s like a silent business partner. They add a lot to a company, but no one’s exactly sure what they do. Let me just say; it’s not a pleasant experience.
I was faced with a parenting decision. I could allow this to be a failure and make something else for breakfast, or we could try again and learn from our mistake. Today I decided we should try again. I had plenty of extra ingredients, including more sourdough starter. The oven was already hot. And I knew that if we took the time to make them right and compare them side by side to batch No 1, he could learn so much. I took the lead on batch No 2 but made sure he was there watching, and we talked through what had happened. Soon the second batch was in the oven. We checked them at six minutes, no browning. They looked normal. Oh, good. After 12 minutes, they were light, flaky, and golden brown. I had him take the biscuits out of the oven, and we moved them to the cooling rack. A few fried eggs and slices of cheddar later, breakfast was on the table.
You never know when a life lesson is going to hit you square between the eyes. I’m so glad it happened at breakfast time today while baking with my boy. Heaven only knows if this memory will imprint and be something he recalls vividly. I know it’s etched in my mind. Here’s to hoping I remember it after I fail and have the tenacity to keep trying. I also pray I’m surrounded by people who will cheer me on to keep going and try again.
Here's the RECIPE