Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Lon Chaney’s Potato Biscuits

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the most iconic performers of the silent era.

A few months ago, I conducted a poll to see which silent star recipe I would cover in March and Lon Chaney won by a comfortable margin. This is a testament to the enduring popularity of a most unusual talent.

lon-chaney-2

While he is famous for his makeup skills, Chaney’s greatest talents were his acting ability and his talent for generating sympathy for his dark and often evil characters. He loved to play wounded monsters, denied love but not necessarily undeserving of our empathy.

So, Chaney’s talents are legendary. Can we say the same about his baking skills? We shall see.

Lon-Chaney-Potato-BiscuitsThe first question I had was this: what is a “large potato” by 1929 American standards? The potatoes I had were about five inches long and about two and a half inches in diameter. Pretty large today but what about then?

I consulted my father, who was born in 1941, and he felt that home cooks wouldn’t have potatoes that large. He only remembered them being that big at steakhouses. An internet search of potato harvests seemed to confirm that a large potato of the 1920s would have been considerably smaller. I ended up using a potato and a half (about two and a quarter cups mashed) for the recipe but even that yielded a loose dough. I think that a cup and three-quarters to two cups would have been better.

Potatoes! (I used russets, by the way.)
Potatoes! (I used russets, by the way.)

I had never cooked with lard in my life, having spent my entire childhood in the fat-averse 80s and 90s and being hopelessly devoted to butter. Fortunately, my grocery store had an entire lard section. Whodathunkit?

Ooooo! Lard!
Ooooo! Lard!

I rolled out the dough on a well-floured surface and experimented with thicknesses. The recipe said to roll the dough “rather thin” which I assumed to mean thin in comparison to regular biscuit dough. I soon found out why. (By the way, this recipe makes 10 billion biscuits. Well, a lot anyway.)

Pretty shapes!
Pretty shapes!

Due to the density of the dough, these things take FOREVER to bake! I can only imagine how long they would have taken had I rolled them to regular biscuit thickness of about half an inch. As it was, the quarter inch thick biscuits took just shy of 30 minutes to bake in a 400 degree oven!

At last, they were brown enough to eat.

Smelled pretty good too.
Smelled pretty good too.

Taste test video:

Score 3 out of 5: I had heard that lard yielded tender baked goods and this proved to be true here. The texture was quite lovely and the thinness of the biscuits made them easy to slather with butter and jam. The biscuits must be eaten hot as they taste really horrid cold and their dense texture precludes you from eating too many.

Behold!
Behold!
Still a bit floury...
Still a bit floury…
Suggested serving (American-style)
Suggested serving (American-style)

However, I didn’t find much to recommend this recipe over a classic buttermilk biscuit. Boiling the potatoes and waiting for them to cool prevents this from being a true quick bread and the long baking time makes the wait even longer. While this recipe is nice enough, there is a reason why the classic biscuit recipe endures.

11 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Lon Chaney’s Potato Biscuits”

  1. A long time make and a short window of time to eat them? These seem like a cruel task from one of Lon Chaney’s villains to set upon the film’s protagonist.

    “Oh you will have biscuits. Mwuahahahahahaha!”

    1. Yeah, I’m sure these things are little calorie bombs. Last I heard, lard was good and shortening was bad. Not sure what the current state of research is. It’s exhausting to follow it.

  2. Hey, waitaminnit! It says POTATO BISCUIT, lady. You were supposed to make ONE big “biscuit” the size of a small end table. Check the date on that cookbook. It’s the Great Depression and you need to feed your starving silent fans for a week on one meal!

    And yep, a fine quality lard is good for some tasty flaky baking applications, but as you noted, baked goods made with it gone cold tend to taste somewhat nasty.

  3. Hahn the wonders of lard..amazing how white it looks. I make pie crust which takes lard. I bet the biscuits. Get quite hardcore a while. I wonder if you rolled them a bit thinner, If they would cook a bit faster but still not be hard as a rock??

    1. I experimented with several thicknesses but the biscuits never got hard. I think the moisture of the potatoes likely prevented it. They just tasted a bit off when cold.

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