Thursday, October 18, 2012
Biscuits were a seemingly simple food that I never managed to make well. Having married a southerner, this was particularly problematic. He was raised on light, fluffy, perfect biscuits and my hockey pucks were a source of dread to us both. In his defense, he, too, tried to duplicate the heavenly orbs of his youth without success, so he sympathized with me and recognized that biscuits were complicated.
This problem came to a bit of a head recently; husband invited a group of colleagues for a real southern meal (he's frying chicken--stay tuned for future post on that). To round out the meal with full authenticity, biscuits were required. We considered ordering a tray from Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner (whose biscuits are stellar), but it just felt wrong. I agreed to make that our plan B, but was determined to produce a bona fide biscuit in a dry-run batch the week before the party.
I searched several of my go-to sources for this type of cooking and found solid advice from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Baking and Betty Crocker's Cookbook.
I learned the following strategies:
1. Use 1/2 cake flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour for lighter biscuits.
2. Use buttermilk instead of milk for best flavor.
3. For Drop Biscuits (I abhor rolling dough) increase the buttermilk or milk in recipe by 25%.
4. Cut butter into dry ingredients quickly, either with a mixer, pastry cutter, or 2 knives--do not over work. Dough should be crumbly chunks about the size of lentils, not a smooth gooey mass.
5. When adding milk, stir in by hand. After mixing, dough will have a more formed texture but will still be lumpy and a bit crumbly.
6. Bake biscuits when butter is still in small, cold bits; this produces air pockets and makes for lightness and fluffiness.
I integrated several different recipes, followed that six pack of tips and came up with the following formula--which, I am delighted to say, was a success!
Finally Successful Drop Biscuits
6 TBS chilled butter cut in pieces
1 c all purpose flour
1 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup buttermilk
Heat oven to 425. Line cookie sheet w/ parchment. Mix everything but buttermilk til small crumbs form. Mix in buttermilk with spoon. Drop by large spoonfuls on cookie sheet; each biscuit should contain about 1/3 cup dough. Bake about 18 minutes til they are just beginning to brown.