I want to learn to make killer biscuits...
- David Kahn Jan 21, 2008 01:42 PM
After years of puzzlement, at the age of 48, I finally learned how to whistle really loud with two fingers. This has convinced me (or perhaps given me the delusion) that while I may be an old dog, I still have a few new tricks left in me.
Learning to make killer biscuits is next on the list of skills I really, really want to acquire. (In Los Angeles, John O'Groats and Quality Food & Beverage make the kind of biscuits I want to produce.)
Can anyone help me in my quest?
(And see page 25 of the Daring Book for Girls if you need help with the whistling thing...)
I'm sure you know, there are a few kinds of biscuits out there, and coming from New England, I am partial to the drop variety. They typically don't have quite as much butter and can be a whole lot easier to make if you aren't quite confident with the rolling pin.
I use 2 cups of flour (using the dip and sweep method which nothing too complicated, just dip a big spoon into the flour and let it fall into the measuring cup with no tapping or shaking and then a big sweep with the knife across the top), 1 tablespoon of baking powder, a little bit less than 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a good pinch of sugar. Mix this all together with a whisk. Cut off 6 tablespoons of seriously cold butter from a stick, and then cut that into 1/4 inch squares. Drop them into the flour mixture. Now with your fingertips, press the butter into the flour, right into that first knuckle, closest to the fingertip. Do this a few times, then toss the flour around a bit with your hands, with kind of a steam shovel action, getting right down to the bottom of the bowl. Keep going until you have nearly, but not exactly, all the same size lumps, and you can't see anymore flour. If you have some tiny lumps of dough, and some just a bit bigger, you will get a more tender biscuit. Now add whole milk, about 2/3 of a cup, but just a good drizzle at a time, pouring with one hand, and mixing with the other--no spoon. You want to add just enough milk so that the dough comes togther. It should resemble a really stiff mud. Set the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a sheet pan, and with a tablespoon or your hand, scoop up about a 1/4 cup of dough and set it on the sheet pan, one biscuit about one inch from the other. My grandmother used to make them in a 9 inch cake pan so that they all stuck together. You can brush them with an egg that has a drop of water beaten into it, or a little heavy cream on its own, or just nothing. Bake them for about 12 to 15 minutes, and you can tell they are done when they have a glow of golden across the top. Take a deep breath before you start. If you trying to make rolled biscuits (I have never been to O'Groats), be sure to handle the dough as little as possible, and roll out really gently with the rolling pin. fayefood.com
Hi Dolores! The info on technique I gave in that other link (mainly, handle very little!) is still good.
For the recipe proportions, I am going to give you my mom's recipe, as memorialized in the Junior Welfare League cookbook from Fort Myers, Florida, "Gulfshore Delights," © 1984.
"Mamaw's Good Ol' Biscuits with Sausage Gravy"
'Real country-style breakfast'
(8-10 servings; cannot make in advance!)
4 heaping tablespoons Crisco
3 Cups self-rising flour (Gold Medal or White Lily)
1 1/2 Cups whole milk
Put flour in large bowl. Cut in Crisco with pastry cutter, till crumbly-flaky like uncooked oatmeal. Add milk bit by bit, stirring in lightly till somewhat moist -- but far from sticky (You may not have to use all the milk, depending on humidity, etc.).
Turn out onto floured countertop or board. (REMEMBER: do not over-handle.) Knead a couple of times. Use hands to lightly and gently form dough into ball, then an elongated roll, about 2 1/2 inches diameter. With lightly floured hands, pinch off a small handful gently with fingertips, and with cupped hands, lightly form a roundish biscuit (it will get a flattened shape after put in pan).
Put biscuits in Crisco-greased pie tin (10" pie plate), near each other (about 1/3 to 1/2 " apart). When all placed, lightly press hand over them so edges all just touch. (makes the desirable soft edges, and fluffier, too.)
Put in pre-heated 450 degree oven (according to recipe, but I recall mom using 500). Bake 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them from 10 minutes. You want LIGHT golden brown.
1 pound seasoned bulk pork sausage (mom likes winn-dixie's brand) (I use Jimmy Dean, but it is really too lean...)
1 T sausage drippings
5 T sifted all-purpose flour
4 C whole milk
1/2 t coarse ground black pepper
Fry up the sausage, breaking into crumbly bits. Drain off all but one T of fat. Sprinkle the flour over the sausage and stir, making a roux, till medium brown. Add milk slowly, stirring and stirring. Add pepper, and simmer a little bit -- recipe says 20 minutes, but that is too long imo. Just let it cook 10 minutes -- that's enough.
Now, the reward, get the middle biscuit, (my fave, fluffy on all sides) open it up and ladle on your gravy. YEAH! For the second or third biscuit, you can switch to maple syrup (my favorite) or cane syrup (which i grew up on, and mom still prefers....)
In the afternoon, when biscuits are cold ('cause you have just put the uneaten ones in the pie tin back into a cold oven till snack time), split, toast in toaster oven, and put on some fresh strawberry preserves. Hot tea to drink. Or cold milk. You will feel very civilized and happy!
A Sunday tradition when I was growing up. Makes me smile to think of it.
I feel as though I have a soul-mate! I've searched for the perfect southern biscuit recipe for years - and I had just about blamed all my failures on my Yankee upbringing until I tried Shirley O. Corriher's Touch of Grace Biscuit recipe from her Cookwise book (pg. 77). My husband calls them "crack biscuits" and we proudly bake up a batch whenever we have company. The best part is that they are like a rolled/dropped biscuit hybrid- you make them like a drop biscuit, but they turn out like those wonderful rolled biscuits. Smother with some orange marmalade, or country ham and texas pete, and you will be in heaven.
Note: You really need to have the Southern winter wheat flour, like White Lily. Williams-Sonoma used to sell it in the small bags for a small fortune, but if you can't locate White Lily in your local store you can most likely order some from A Southern Season, which is located in Chapel Hill, NC. It's probably not on their website, but if you give them a call, they can hook you up. I know they carry it in their store. http://www.southernseason.com
"Crack biscuits" is right. Just tried these the other morning and they were unbelievably light and tender with a thin brown crust. And I was thrilled, too, with how the few that were leftover reheated the next day. I was a bit concerned when I first read the recipe (linked to here by coconutz http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39344... ) that it might be a bit complicated to put together first thing in the morning, but I was very pleasantly surprised that--using the ice-cream scoop method--they came together in practically no time. I've only tried a few other biscuit recipes, but this is the one for me.
I swear by this recipe, and it's SO much better with real lard (I rendered some just before Christmas). I can't find White Lily flour but they're still great with regular self-rising flour.
Hand Squashed Cathead Biscuits
From Chowhound poster Andy P (AWOL but much missed!):
There used to be this good old boy comedian, named Jerry Clower. He hailed from Yazoo City, Mississippi. One of his greatest comedy bits was about the folks in town, who on Sunday morning, made whumped biscuits. These were the biscuits that you had to whump the container on the counter to get the biscuits out. In the South, this is pure sacrilege. Anybody who dont work makin the biscuits, their kids dont deserve eatin em.
And, the best biscuits in the world are hand-squashed, cathead biscuits. The most fantabulous biscuit that ever laid itself down for sausage gravy.
Now, the original recipe that I've got for cathead biscuits, which I learned from the Lake Charles, Louisiana, long-haul trucker cousins of the mother of my childhood best friend, is tucked away in Sacramento, and Ill ask my Mom to send it to me. But, I've found everything I need to make a damn close recipe from, (bended upon one knee in genuflection), Ernest Matthew Micklers White Trash Cooking II, Recipes for Gatherins
2 cups White Lily (or other) self-rising flour
1/2 cup lard
3/4 cup buttermilk
Cut lard into flour till it looks like meal. Add enough milk to make the dough come away from the sides of the bowl. Throw it onto a floured surface, and knead it 10 or more times. Pinch off 6 or 8 good-size pieces and hand squash them into biscuits no more than ¾ inch thick. Place on an ungreased baking tin and put in a preheated 450-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown, and as big as cat heads.
These are great for: biscuits and gravy, biscuits and ham, or biscuit, meat, and gravy sandwiches. Also a great vehicle for molasses, sorghum, jam/jelly/preserves, honey, butter, syrup, and sopping up the drippins of anything on the plate. Also, if you let them sit out for a day, they are great for teething!!
re: Chris VR
My grandmother/mother used to make this kind of biscuits (aside from the story, that's a pretty common preparation). The only thing that I never liked about them is the fact that they have absolutely no storage potential, which means no leftovers the next day and I don't like that kind of waste for all my efforts.
The Cookwise recipe, I swear, you can throw the leftovers in the fridge in a ziploc bag, and then take them out again about two days later, heat them up in the microwave and it's like they just came out of the oven.
Hmm, I wouldn't agree about the lack of storage potential. Hubby made some on Saturday, and we kept in a ziploc bag. I warmed some up today (Tuesday) for lunch and they were fine- slightly on the dry side but butter and jam remedied that just fine!
David, I'm looking forward to hearing more about your biscuit journey. Do me a favor- if you can get any King Arthur Self Rising Flour at your market, make a batch with that too and discuss the difference? (That's what I'm using.) One of these days I'll order some White Liiy and do it myself... but since you're in biscuit discovery mode anyway...
re: Chris VR
Just made these with my 'gifted' lard (thanks CVR) and they are literally the best biscuits I've ever had. Light, flaky, indescribably good. I'm on my second and I made them for beef stew. Screw that.
I am NOT a biscuit maker so the 'light touch' seems to be infallible with these. YUM!
I recently made some Cook's Illustrated drop biscuits and they were hands-down the best biscuits I've ever made.
I know it's gauche to reply to my own post, but I spent the last two months experimenting, and have evolved a recipe that is exactly what I wanted -- killer drop biscuits:
2 cups White Lily or other cake flour (not self rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, frozen
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening (Crisco), frozen (the wrapped butter shaped sticks are very convenient for this)
3/4 cup buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
Adjust oven rack to center, and preheat oven to 500 F. Make sure the oven has time to come up to temperature.
Sift together dry ingredients. With a coarse grater (I use a box grater), grate butter and shortening into dry ingredients, stirring often as you grate to prevent the grated butter and shortening from clumping together. The butter and shortening are easier to hold while grating if you roll them in the flour mixture. You just want to distribute the grated pieces of frozen butter and shortening into the flour and coat them with flour; you don't want to smash them into the flour or break them up into smaller pieces and you don't want them to stick together into a big mass of grated fat. You're looking for lots of small chunks of fat evenly distributed in and coated with flour.
After the butter and shortening are grated into the flour, pour in the buttermilk and stir. It will seem like it's not enough liquid to form a dough, and you'll have to knead the mixture a bit by hand, until it congeals into a sticky ball. Mix/knead as little as possible to get this to happen. The dough won't be an even consistency, but that doesn't matter; as soon as it forms into a ball of dough that holds together, stop. Cut the sticky ball of dough into four equal pieces, and then cut each of these pieces into three. Roll each piece of dough into a rough ball, and drop onto a nonstick double thickness baking sheet, leaving at least an inch between biscuits. (You can actually get a little more height in the biscuits if you roll the dough into little cylinders about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and place them upright on the baking sheet.)
Brush the tops with melted butter, and then bake until light golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
Hope this is a useful addition to the list of recipes.
re: David Kahn
Thanks for sharing your recipe, David. I'm going to try it out. I think the key to making great biscuits, is using FROZEN butter/shortening that as been grated to small chunks. The recipe I use for "perfect biscuits" is from Chef Michael Smith who wrote the following article:
I like this recipe because it's relatively simple and easy to prepare, besides the fact that the biscuits are tasty.
One of my favorite episodes of "Good Eats" is the one where he cooks biscuits alongside his grandmother, Ma Mae (Alton is from Georgia). The yummy recipe can be found at http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip.... There is an interesting note "from" Mae at the bottom of that recipe:
"I don't have much use for recipes but the one you get on a bag of White Lily(r) self-rising flour is hard to beat. And it's a lot easier than the one my crazy grandson dreamed up."
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup mayonnaise; * see note
* Use Hellman's mayo, preferably. Combine all the ingredients, mix well. Dump onto floured board. Sprinkle top of dough with flour [do not kneed] and pat dough down 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Use biscuit cutter.
Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 12-15 minutes. This recipe can be doubled. Keep leftovers in refrigerator. Reheat slowly or cut in halve, spread with butter and make biscuit toast. Biscuit toast is great!!!