Surely by now you’ve seen the brilliant Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog, by Drew Magary at Deadspin, right? I’m not sure which is funnier, that or the hilariously scathing review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant by Pete Wells for the New York Times. Either way, it’s been a good week for food writing: if you haven’t seen these yet, you should check ’em out. I’ll wait.
I was chatting about the hilarity of the Williams-Sonoma piece with some of my blogging friends, and in particular, the ludicrousness (ludicrosity?) of $72 biscuits. And I quote:
Williams-Sonoma says: “Flaky, buttery, and made by hand by celebrated caterer Callie White.”
Price:$72 (set of 24)
Notes from Drew: That’s $72 dollars for biscuits. At Popeye’s, the biscuit comes free with your order. At Williams-Sonoma, it costs you the rough equivalent of your phone bill. How good could these biscuits possibly be? There’s a threshold past which biscuits cannot improve. Even the best goddamn biscuit in the world isn’t $72 better than a Popeye’s biscuit. Unless that biscuit can make you teleport.
And what kills me is that there are clearly people out there who have shitloads of money and NO cooking skills who order this shit. Who are these people? How are there so many of them that Williams-Sonoma can sustain its business model? Are we all just racking up massive biscuit debts that will soon break the economy? I imagine that 60 percent of Williams-Sonoma’s business come from a group of six Persian oil barons, who buy everything in every catalog five times over every year for no good reason at all. Seventy-two-dollar biscuits. WHAT THE FUCK.
I had basically the same reaction. $72?? That would buy me four chickens. Four fancy-pants, organic, free-range, pasture-raised, hand-fed-organic-beet-tops-by-Trappist-monks chickens. $72 for 2 dozen biscuits? That goes beyond ‘elitist’ straight to ludicrous speed. Then Joel pointed out the even more ludicrous $80 pint of chicken stock, which prompted its own hilarity on the LK Facebook page. Like I said: a good week for food writing.
But it got me to thinking; just in case you, like me, are not a Persian oil baron who can afford to toss down four Jacksons for a couple dozen biscuits, you’re in luck, because I’m here to tell you a little secret: you can make them yourself. I know what you’re thinking, “She’s crazy! Surely if biscuits are worth $72, there is no way I could simply manufacture them in my very own kitchen!” I know: it sounds wacky. But it’s true: a little flour, a little butter, some cheese & herbs to fancy them up, and in about 30 minutes, you too can have your very own $72 biscuits for the Thanksgiving table.
Then? Use the money you save to put towards an heirloom turkey: elitist and thrifty! Who says we can’t have it all?
Adapted from Cheddar Dill Biscuits by A Pastry Affair. Make sure to check out the excellent Mile-High Biscuits tips, too!
- 2 cups (9 oz) whole white wheat flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 oz (4 tbsp) butter, frozen
- 4 oz semi-hard cheese, such as cheddar, gruyère, asiago, etc., grated (I used half gruyère and half peppered pecorino)
- 2 tbsp fresh herbs, minced (I used thyme)
- ½ cup heavy cream, very cold
- ⅓ cup whole milk, very cold
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (400 degrees F convection).
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Grate in frozen butter, and work into flour until the mixture is the consistency of coarse sand. Run your hands under very cold water for a minute if they are warm. Mix in grated cheese and herbs. Add in cream, then gradually work in the milk, tossing with a wooden spatula until dough begins to come together.
- Turn onto a floured board. Knead minimally, just until dough will hold its shape. Flatten with your hands, as gently as possible, to a 1-inch high round. Cut biscuit shapes (I used a 2 and ½-inch round cutter), without twisting the cutter, until you’ve used all the dough. Arrange evenly on an unlined baking sheet. Bake until puffed and golden, about 15 – 18 minutes.
Yields about 1 dozen biscuits.
- All-purpose flour will yield a fluffier, more tender biscuit, but honestly, it tastes like nothing to me now. I may try these again with half whole wheat pastry flour in the mix.
- A little black pepper, cayenne or chipotle in the flour mix wouldn’t be amiss; start with a ¼ tsp.
Best eaten fresh. Store uncooked biscuits frozen for up to 6 months: cook from frozen, simply adding a few minutes to the baking time.
I know you love butter, as do I, but have you tried cocoanut oil? It’s organic and sustainable and minimally processed, not hydrogenated. It’s a solid at room temperature.
On our culinary timeline, it’s a product of the Spanish-American War and our colonization of the Philippines, and because it was so stable and cheap it replaced lard as commercial baking industries grew in the early 20th Century. It was demonized after WWII by seed/corn/soya oil producers after the discovery of hydrogenation– which gave us products like Crisco.
But it still makes damn fine biscuits and pie crust.
I have used coconut oil, but not as a replacement for solid fat in a pastry. I’ll have to try it out in biscuits one of these days. Of course, I’m sort of a local girl and coconuts don’t quite grow in New York….
I just wanted to point out that coconut oil has a lot of saturated fat. According to the USDA food database it has around 12 g. Saturated fat and almost 14 g. Total fat per Tbsp., but butter had almost 12 g. Total fat and around 7 g. Saturated fat per Tbsp. It’s really much worse for your health, but great for your skin!
Just to chime in here, to reach the conclusion that coconut oil is “much worse for your health” than butter, you have to ascribe to the notion that saturated fats are much worse for you than anything else, fat-wise. Despite the fact that it is still the party line at USDA and such, I think many of us believe that the real story on fats is just not that simple. For instance, the age-old butter vs. margarine debate: for years we were told to choose margarine, with it’s lower cholesterol and saturated fats, for better heart health. But then we learn that it is loaded with trans-fats, which are implicated in all sorts of health issues. So which is healthier?
In general, there are a lot of studies linking dietary cholesterol and saturated fat with a number of health concerns. But these studies are notoriously difficult to run & interpret and it’s nearly impossible, IMO, to tease out one piece of dietary information and make useful conclusions. I honestly can’t tell you whether I personally think coconut oil is unhealthier than butter; I could spend a lifetime researching the subject. But I think we know enough to know that there is always more to the story.
Unless you’re planning on consuming the entire dozen biscuits, I’m not sure a few grams of fat are going to hurt– especially in a recipe that includes heavy cream, whole milk and cheese. It’s partly about personal tastes and pleasure. I don’t especially like biscuits made with butter, preferring to apply it directly after they’ve cooled down a bit, except if there’s leftover gravy around.
Try lard! It has about 20% less saturated fat than butter. It’s not that hard to find non-hydrogenated, artisan-produced lard these days. I suspect artisan- (or home-) produced butter has more saturated fat than commercial butter, as do cultured and/or imported butters.
If W-S was smart, they’d hire you to take pictures for them. You’re a freaking artist. AND you can cook. Your biscuits look so much better than the $72 ones!
Yet how much do you charge for pictures of $72 biscuits?? It’s a conundrum. 🙂
How much do you reckon your biscuits cost since you are using cream, two cheeses, butter, whole milk and specialty flour? Before people go off on $72 biscuits they might want to know what you spent on yours. I make biscuits out of sourdough starter these days — takes no milk or buttermilk, just a little soda, baking powder, a tiny bit of sugar, butter for the tops.
Granted, mine are pretty expensive as homemade biscuits go: the peppered pecorino alone was $28/lb. But still, I estimate: $1.25 each for the flour, butter, and cream; $5.50 for both cheeses; and about 25 cents for the milk, salt & baking powder. The thyme was free, homegrown on my deck, but you could toss in another 25 cents for that if you like.
So even with local, sustainable, organic ingredients and fancy-pants Italian cheese, these biscuits cost about $9.75 in ingredients, plus whatever pennies worth of propane it took to bake them for 15 minutes. This recipe made a dozen, so you could round it up to an even $20 for 2 dozen. Still a 360% markup to get to $72, even if you don’t consider the fact that professional bakers pay wholesale, buy in bulk, and don’t typically use expensive, ‘artisinal,’ butter, milk, flours, etc.
I followed your links and laughed til I cried. Thanks for this post. Much needed after a long week.
Hilarious – I’ll have to check out those links. I went to a Williams Sonoma “free” cooking class a couple years ago. They were making fresh pasta, and of course, were show casing their stock pot that came with a strainer that fit right in the pot – someone asked how much it cost and the employee said “I am not sure, Betty can you check the price on this?” Like she didn’t know. . . $198! Pretty sure my $4 collander can strain out the same pasta water!
Missed the W/S post – thanks for pointing it out, just when I needed the laugh. Have you seen their chicken coop? Bwahahaha!
The Williams and Sonoma post is just hysterical! I am actually frightened to know that they actually sell the $72.00 biscuits! Homemade must be fresher? Wouldn’t we love to have a blind taste testing with homemade and the $72.00 version. All WS discussion aside, your biscuits are stellar and I wouldn’t change a thing about them!
very inviting and yummy !
Everyone is really focused on $72 for the biscuits, but I’m sure that doesn’t include shipping. You’ll probably end up paying another $25+ for overnight shipping so your FROZEN biscuits don’t thaw. If I’m going to buy frozen biscuits instead of making my own, I’ll get Pillsbury.
It has indeed been a very good week for the food-oriented snark. 🙂 I will make my own biscuits with olive oil and I will like them just fine for far less than $72!
hahaha, I’m sure the gluten-free option would be well into the triple digits.
As a long time fan of the simplicity and delight of homemade biscuits, I share in your outrage of the the mail order variety. How could any biscuit, especially one not directly from the oven, come close to valuing such an outrageous price? The Fieri piece was also hilarious. He is a bit of a home-town hero around here and has down some very good things for many small restaurants in the area and beyond, but I can’t say I frequent his local restaurants.
Loved the links. Thanks so much for such sparkling writing.
Great post! Had seen that article and had the same feelings!! Will try these biscuits!
It was a great week for (well-deserved) food snark, wasn’t it? I was in NY just a few blocks from the restaurant and meant to run by and peer in, but never got to it. Your biscuits look great!
While $72 for biscuits if magnificently hilarious, my favorite ridiculous W-S pricing is for their new(ish) gardening stuff. They offer a single corn seedling for $14! One tiny seedling of corn!! They’ve got a whole range of seedlings and fruit tree saplings and berry bushes, all of them more expensive than the last — it’s a wonder to behold.
When I first read your post title, I thought “surely, they’re joking. There’s no way someone would have the gall to charge that much for biscuits.” You have proved me wrong. I am simultaneously totally amused and disgusted. So many emotions, so few biscuits.
Great post. You make me laugh. I work at a gourmet grocery store and sometimes I am shocked at what people will pay for pre-made foods. This is my new favorite blog. See you soon.
Ha ha ha, Stonewall Kitchen has an apple pie that costs $72.95! And the most mind-blowing thing about it is that there’s a review from someone who actually bought it and said she planned to buy another one!
WTF, I am a broke as poor woman, Do they have any idea how many meals I could make with $72.00
The thrift lady cooks healthy