Tag Archives: Bernard Clayton


Happy New Year to all. As usual, Susan and I did not make it to the magic hour. We did sip some sparkling white wine (Gruet made in New Mexico, so they’re not allowed to call it champagne. But it’s made by the champagne method, and it’s what the internet claims that Jacques Pepin drinks, so we enjoyed the evening.) And we lasted until 10:45.

In the meantime, Carol and her family went to a quiet gathering with another family. Even the kids made it past midnight. I’ve already seen the ball drop in Times Square enough times, and it is never different from year to year.

This morning, Carol wanted to christen her new oven that was installed just yesterday. She elected to make bagels, which are favorites of her family. Besides, the kids can help with the process.

She used the recipe from Bernard Clayton’s book, New Book of Breads, and got up early to have the dough rising while everyone else slept.

When the dough had risen, she formed it into 12 bagel shapes, dunked them in the water bath, drained them, arranged them on baking sheets, topped them with egg wash along with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, or salt, and then baked them successfully in her new oven.

There were enough bagels so that everyone had two – a great way to welcome in the new year.


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At last the summer monsoons (Yes, that’s what they are called.) have come to Santa Fé. Clouds build over the mountains in the early afternoon and develop into towering thunderheads. By late afternoon the clouds darken and horsetails of rain begin to stream in patches over the valleys and mesas. Sometimes you get a shower. Sometimes you don’t. We have been suffering from a severe drought for the past three years, so the rains have been a welcome relief. Even though the drought has not been broken, the new moisture has helped the grasses to green and ripen, and the flowers have been encouraged to bloom. The white clouds and blue skies are an important part of the New Mexico landscape, They are among the things that have attracted so many artists over the years. Georgia O’Keeffe clearly loved the clouds, and that love is captured in her famous series of paintings, Sky Over Clouds. One of the series, Sky Over Clouds IV, has a prominent place in the Art Institute of Chicago, while others hang in museums all over the world.

Georgia O'Keefe's Sky Above Clouds, IV, Art Institute of Chicago

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky Above Clouds, IV, Art Institute of Chicago

The rains have brought water to the dry arroyo in our back yard, and the water, lightning, and thunder have encouraged the spade-foot toads from their long sleep in the mud at the bottom of the pond to serenade us all night long.

My digression on monsoons has led me far away from the food topic of this entry, but I wanted to share the good news of moisture at last. Now on to crackers.

One of the food blogs I like to follow is Dinner of Herbs. The author has been trying out a lot of different recipes for crackers lately, so I decided to look through my collection of cracker recipes. I came across an old favorite that I got from Bernard Clayton’s classic, New Complete Book of Breads, (Simon and Schuster, 1987) I’m not sure if the recipe is in the original edition, published in 1973. Marion Cunningham has also been credited with first publishing the recipe. That has some importance because there are a lot of entries on the Internet describing this or that as the “original” version. In any event, Clayton says that he got the recipe from Lillian Marshall, a noted cook and author from Kentucky, hence the name, “Lil’s Ice Water Crackers”. I have made some changes and suggestions about the recipe that you can read in the “Comments” section after the recipe.

Actually, the recipe is NOT for crackers, but instead how to turn plain saltines into something tastier and fit for company. When you read the recipe you will ask yourself how can this turn out to be anything but a pile of glop?

Trust me, you will love the results.


Lil’s Ice Water Crackers


  • 24 single saltine crackers (a sleeve of crackers contains about 36)
  • 1 quart ice water
  • 1 stick butter, melted


  1. Arrange the crackers in a single layer in a 11 x 17 inch jelly roll pan with a turned up edge
  2. Pour the ice water over the crackers and let them stand for 3 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove the crackers with a spatula or slotted spoon and place them on a towel covered layers of paper towels. The crackers will be soggy and fragile so take extra care with this step.
  4. While the crackers are draining, wash and dry the jelly roll pan.
  5. Pour half of the melted butter into the pan and spread with a spatula or your fingers so that the bottom of the pan is completely coated.
  6. Arrange the crackers in the pan and drizzle the remaining butter over them.
  7. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 475°F for 15 to 20 minutes, checking frequently to make sure that they don’t burn
  8. Serve immediately while still hot.


  • A sleeve of saltines contains about 36 crackers, but some of them will probably be broken. Also, 36 crackers may be too many to work with at one time, especially if you are just trying out this recipe. Some of the crackers might begin to disintegrate before you can transfer them. As well, if they are too close to one another, they tend to stick together.
  • The original recipe called for 2 quarts of ice water, You don’t need that much to moisten the crackers, and the amount is a bit unwieldy.
  • Three minutes is tops for the crackers to soak. Some recipes say 10 minutes, but that is too long. The crackers need to swell up, but they will start to disintegrate with long soaking.
  • Wet crackers may stick to a wet paper towel, so be sure to have enough layers of towelling to absorb all of the excess moisture.
  • Allow plenty of space between the crackers so they don’t stick together.
  • If some of the crackers do stick together, don’t worry. They may take longer to crisp than the single crackers, but the way to deal with that is to remove crackers when they are golden and crisp and return the unfinished crackers to the oven until they are fully baked.


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A few years ago, my wife Susan and I compiled a family cook book based upon the hundreds of hand-written index cards in our jammed recipe box. We also asked our children to send us their favorite recipes. Carol, our older daughter, sent us a recipe for “Touch of Grace Biscuits” which she described as one of her favorites. Although she was born in the Mountain West, she grew up in the Deep South, so her palate often favors Southern tastes.  She has perfected Touch of Grace Southern biscuits. There are lots of recipes for biscuits, but few of them seem to rise up tall with a flaky inside.  These definitely do. This recipe is one of Carol’s specialties that she gleaned from a couple of Southern cookbooks.  There are various explanations for the “touch of grace” title, but they all trace back to the noted Southern food expert and cook book author, Shirley O. Corriher. According to Bernard Clayton in his encyclopedic “Complete Book of Breads”, six Atlanta cooks including Shirley Corriher were gathered together by Nathalie Dupree to create the best Southern biscuit from a large collection of recipes. Ms. Corriher offered up her grandmother’s recipe which she described as made with a “touch of grace”. Another version says that the source was a hand-written note in the margin of the recipe. Ms. Corriher herself describes the origin of the name in her own book, “CookWise: the Secrets of Cooking Revealed”. Unable to duplicate her grandmother’s biscuits, Shirley Corriher asked, “Nannie, what did I do wrong?” to which her grandmother replied, “Honey, I guess you forgot to add a touch of grace.” Whatever the real story of the name, these biscuits remain popular and appear in many a Southern baking book.

Touch of Grace Biscuits ready for the oven

One of the key ingredients for the recipe is Southern self-rising flour. Most Southern bakers insist that the only flour to use is White Lily flour.  To the dismay of many, the original mill in Knoxville, TN closed in 2008 after operating since 1883.  Production was shifted to two mills in the Midwest by the new owner, the J.M Smucker Company, who insists that the new product is indistinguishable from the old. Blind testers refute that statement and have demonstrated that they can tell the difference. Some Southern home bakers resorted to hoarding the old stuff when they learned of the plan to relocate the mill.  Apparently, there were many reasons that White Lily was different from the flour that you buy at grocery stores outside of the South. Perhaps most importantly, White Lily was made from softer Southern wheat with only about 8 percent protein while Northern and Midwestern flours are milled from wheats with 10 to 12 percent protein. The flour was supposed to be ground more finely, bleached with chlorine rather than other bleaching agents, and sifted several times before packaging. Even without the original White Lily flour, Touch of Grace biscuits are light and delicate. I can only wonder how much better they would be with White Lily.

Touch of Grace Biscuits fresh from the oven

Here is the recipe as my daughter sent it to me. The ingredients are exactly the same as the original by Shirley Corriher with some minor modifications in the method. The dough will be much softer than usual biscuit dough. That is why you don’t cut the biscuits but rather form them into rough balls and dredge them in all-purpose flour before putting them in the pan. Crowding them will make them rise higher.



1½  Cups              sifted self-rising flour

1/8 tsp                  baking soda

1/3 tsp                  salt

1 Tbsp                   sugar

3 Tbsp                  shortening (not butter)

1¼  Cups             buttermilk

1 Cup                    all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp                  butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 475º and spray round cake pan with cooking spray
  2. Combine self-rising flour, soda, salt, and sugar  in large mixing bowl. Work in shortening using a pastry blender until the mixture is a pea-sized meal.
  3. Stir in buttermilk  and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. The dough should be soft and wet.
  4. Pour the all-purpose flour into a pie pan.  Spoon a lump of the dough into the flour, working and shaping it into a soft round. Shake loose any extra flour and place the round in the greased cake pan, continuing to shape and place biscuits until the pan is full. Have the biscuits touch one another as you fill the pan.
  5. Brush the tops of the shaped biscuits with the melted butter and bake for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are a golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Yield: About one dozen biscuits

Ready to eat with butter and jam

As an aside, self-rising flour is a fairly standard Southern ingredient which may be relatively un-used or even hard to find in other parts of the country. Exactly what is it? Self-rising flour is a regular flour that has been pre-mixed with baking powder. Because of that, you should not use it when a recipe calls for yeast as a leavening agent. If Southern-style self-rising flour is not available, you can make your own by sifting together 1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup “instant” flour (Wondra is a popular brand which contains a mixture of wheat and malted barley flavors) and 1½ tsp baking powder.

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