I finally made a bread and didn't mess it up.
Lemme back up. I used to cook for a living, back in another life. Cook, not bake. The pastry chefs I worked with were, in my eyes anyway, gods. I would finish my prep work and watch them mix or proof or make loaves or whatever with utter envy as I could not bake. Hell, I'd screw up pancake better 'bout half the time. So, flour and I agreed on a truce where I would be allowed to make gravy and pancake batter, but nothing else. It was as if I had some substance on my skin that reacted with flour to make failure.
I even messed up the no knead recipe that Jim posted. Twice. Both attempts came out more like barely leavened hard tack.
I can't bake. I take it personally because I like to consider myself capable in the kitchen; I know techniques and recipes by heart and I can pretty much make anything. Except bread and that hurts. I'm incomplete and I want to scratch that last itch -- breads, pie crusts and quick breads.
I've decided that I will bake a loaf of bread consistently, create a pie crust from scratch (hell, I even rendered my own lard) and make biscuits. This isn't only not impossible, but it happens every day. I can do this.
Today, I decided that I would try to make biscuits for breakfast. Using the information from this article which strips away the mythology, the folklore and gives a straight up account of what biscuits need. An engineer's view, sorta. I understand (mostly) the chemistry and what is happening when food is prepared (if you want to know more, Harold McGee's book is a great read.) Avoiding the "my Gramma does it this-a-way" articles and getting to the basics was just what I needed. I followed the ideas presented and with flip and a flash -- I had a dough I could actually handle. The only variations were that I didn't bother to cut them out with a glass or a cutter, I just made six square buscuits and that I put flour on everything; my hands, the counter, the rolling pin, the dog, etc.
That may have been the trick.
I used lard, so the Mrs. wasn't too keen on them (she really dislikes all manner of pork), but I'm going to try again tonight with butter to see the difference. I'm just thrilled that I finally got it right. I've purchased the Tassajara Bread Book and I'll work on his recipe until I get that right, too. I'm heartened enough now to be disappointed again later.
The biscuits also worked with butter. I made sure to use cold butter and I put the shortened flour mixture back in the fridge for ten minutes before handling the dough. With bicuits down, here come the scones! WooHoo!