Cooking with a Four-Year Old: American Yankee Biscuits

My four-year old loves to cook.  She especially loves making biscuits—the American definition, not the UK definition,* which makes them bread, not cookies.

To be precise, we operate on the Yankee definition, because I fully admit that biscuits made below the Mason-Dixon Line are automatically ten times better than anything made up north, even if it’s Paula Deen making them in both places.  Must be the water.  Or the ambiance.

Regardless this is our method and we’ve had no complaints, even from my Virginia-born, Tennessee-raised MIL, and that should be enough for anyone.

You will need but are not expected to have gathered before you start because who are we kidding:

3-½ cups of flour
2 Tablespoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt**
1-½ sticks of real butter—salted, unsalted, doesn’t matter
1-¼ to 1-½ cups of cold milk

1 baking sheet
Aluminum foil
1 pizza cutter
1 Sunny—you may use an off-brand four-year old if absolutely necessary
A small bowl of flour for dusting, set well out of the reach of the previous ingredient


1.  Wash hands and all work surfaces.  Set the oven for 450F.  Place the Sunny on her stool.  Line a baking sheet with foil and let the Sunny smooth it out.

2.  Dump the flour,  baking powder, and  salt into the 8-cup glass measuring bowl, because it has a handle for the Sunny to grab so it won’t spin like a top when she mixes.**

3.    Give the Sunny the whisk and show her how to mix the dry ingredients gently while you go to the fridge for a stick of butter.

4.  Sweep escaped flour mixture off the counter and dump it back in the bowl.  Take away the whisk and tell the Sunny not to touch the mixture with her hands.

5. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and drop them into the bowl.  Sweep escaped flour mixture off the counter and dump it back in the bowl, and have the Sunny clap the rest from her fingers.

6.  If right-handed, give the Sunny your wedding ring and tell her on pain of your current favorite empty threat to not lose it—if un-beringed, unmarried, or left-handed skip this step—and use your denuded off-hand to cut the butter into the flour until it looks like slightly lumpy cornmeal as you listen to the Sunny exclaim over how thick your fingers are.

7.  Wash your hands, dry them just in time to hear an “Oopsie!” and the sound of a round object heading towards the floor vent.  Run.  Jam the rescued ring back on your finger, comfort the Sunny, and ask her to gently dig a hole in the middle of the flour-butter mixture as you get the milk and another measuring glass.

8.  Sweep escaped flour-butter mixture off the counter and dump back in the bowl.  Help the Sunny dump between 1-¼ to 1-½ cups of milk (depending on how much flour was irretrievably lost) into the bowl.  Please note:  Four-year olds have more optimism than common sense, so unless you like to mop your kitchen floor, it is crucial that you ignore her when she says she can do this all by herself without spilling and/or dropping the measuring cup into the bowl or onto the floor.  She can’t.  You have been warned.

9.  Scatter a scant handful of flour on the baking sheet and have the Sunny distribute it evenly while you mix up the dough with your biggest spoon or rubber spatula, just until everything is moistened.  Scrape the dough onto the baking sheet.  Flour your hands, take a small lump of dough and set aside.

10.  Dust the top of the dough with flour and fold it towards you.  Let the Sunny pat the dough once or twice.  Fold it to one side (I’m right-handed, so I fold to the left), while she giggles over the dough between her fingers.  Let her pat again.

11.  Four folds-and-pats later—dusting flour as necessary—have the Sunny help you shape the dough into a rectangle about three-fourths of an inch thick or thicker. Dust the reserved dough lump and give it to the Sunny to play with it until her fingers are relatively clean.  Wash your own.

12.  Take out your pizza cutter and have the Sunny sprinkle it with flour from four inches away.  Please note:  Again, four-year olds are not known for their acute sense of their own abilities or mortality, so it is vital that you don’t let her get any closer to the cutter than is necessary for her to hit the blade with the flour, because you know how it will end and you’re completely out of the only band-aids she likes.

13.  Carefully coat the flour over the blade and cut the dough into squares or triangles or parallelograms or whatever floats your geometric boat.***  Let the Sunny put her Special Biscuit in a corner and leave it be, no matter what she’s done to it–it’s her Special Biscuit, even if it looks like a bagel of questionable origin.

14.  Slide the sheet into the oven and set the timer for twelve minutes.  Pick up the Sunny from behind and cart her to the sink, so as little as possible is touched with those sticky fingers before she washes her hands.  Let her start the timer, or you’ll hear about it.

15.  Allow the Sunny to turn on the oven light as often as she wants and remind her that they aren’t done until the beep.  She may wander off after five minutes—this is normal.  Check e-mail or blog stats.

16.  At the beep, check the biscuits.  If they aren’t light golden brown, try another two minutes.  You may start the timer yourself, as the Sunny is Bored Now.  Repeat until light golden brown is achieved, but not dark golden, as this automatically renders them inedible to anyone under the age of ten, even with peanut butter and honey.

17.  Remove biscuits from oven, using oven mitts and not your shirt tails.  Slide foil off pan and let the biscuits cool.  Shut off the oven because you don’t want to be asked if there’s a reason it’s still on and whether you’ve seen the power bill by a man who is incapable, upon leaving a room, of turning off any radio playing his favorite sports talk station to save his life.

18.  Line a basket or bowl with a clean kitchen towel.^^  Use a plastic server or pancake flipper—or whatever you call that thing when you’re trying not to call it a spatula to avoid confusion—to remove the biscuits from the foil.  You may need to peel the foil from one or two of the biscuits , which isn’t the end of the world, but be careful, as these fluffy puppies are hot.  Put them in the bowl or basket and wrap ’em with the towel.

19.  Wipe down the kitchen, but leave the dishes for your husband—you cooked.

20. Serve with just about anything—but for the love of sanity, make sure the Sunny gets her Special Biscuit.  She won’t eat it, but she’ll want to bestow it on a favorite family member.

Who just might be you.


* What is the British-English term for American biscuits?  It’s not a savory biscuit,  if there’s no additions like cheese or herbs, is it?  Downith?  Sarah P.?

** I use Kosher salt, but if you’re uncomfortable asking your ingredients about their religious and cultural beliefs, use a little less table salt or a little more rough sea salt.  Or whatever.

*** Yeah, I know.  Glass in the hands of a four-year old.  But she’s on a stool, so if it hits the floor, she’ll be above the shrapnel.

^ To anyone hyperventilating through flared nostrils:  Life is too short to mess with biscuit cutters.  Besides, I saw this on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and the last biscuits don’t end up like rocks from over handling.

^^ Or a cloth napkin—the American version, not the UK version, which is very different—though if you can lay hands on one without removing at least one storage box, I’m thinking you’ll have to borrow the necessary four-year old.