Now that you know how to keep yourself in a copious supply of buttermilk you will want to try these Southern style buttermilk biscuits. They used to be a breakfast staple down here but sadly, time changes all things and cold cereal is more likely to be on the table now. It’s a time thing, I know, but I mourn the days when life moved slower and shows like Leave It to Beaver reflected how families tended to move through their days.
Not that life was perfect as it was portrayed but I like the idea of a one income household (remember, I lived that for nearly 30 years on a very limited single income) where I get up and fix the family a relatively leisurely breakfast before waving them off to their days from the door of my nearly spotless house. I like the idea of orange juice in a pitcher on the table and bacon, eggs, and biscuits on the plates. I guess I am a child of the Baby Boomer generation for sure because that seems like a nutritious, well rounded breakfast to me. And, if it wasn’t for our very sedate lifestyles I suppose it would be.
But I digress.
There are two kinds of biscuits. Baking powder biscuits are (or used to be) somewhat unique to the northern states while buttermilk biscuits tended to remain south of the Mason Dixon. Having lived a large portion of my life in each place I have learned to love them both but I will admit a leaning toward buttermilk biscuits. The buttermilk makes them more tender and melt in your mouth flakey.
My biscuit recipes tend to evolve regularly as I attempt to create the perfect biscuit. If you are used to the ones out of the can then you owe it to yourself to make real biscuits. It really doesn’t take as long as you might think and the results are infinitely better. Most of the trick to flaky, tender, mouthwatering biscuits is in the technique, the ingredients are all pretty standard.
Those flaky layers that we all love are created by pockets in the baking dough. These pockets are created when the fat in the biscuit (butter, leaf lard, or shortening) is surrounded by flour and then melts away. The height is caused by the leavening releasing a gas as it bakes but you don’t need the leavening for the layers. If you don’t believe me consider puff pastry which has thousands of layers of pastry with nary a speck of leavening in the batch. So, if you don’t get the technique for encasing the fat in the flour correct then nothing you do will make flaky biscuits. You might get mile high biscuits but they will not be flaky.
Like pie crust or any other pastry the fat needs to be enrobed in the flour while it is very cold. Any melting or softening will mix the fat with the flour which you don’t want. Hint number one: Always start with ice cold ingredients.
Since most fat gets soft at body temperature then you want to keep your hands out of the dough as much as possible. By using the tips of your fingers (and dipping them in ice water if it is hot in the kitchen) and working the dough as little as possible you will get flakier biscuits no matter what method you use.
Here’s the thing. The pockets will only be as big as the size of the fat globule that went in them. Most recipes tell you to mix the fat into the flour until it looks like coarse cornmeal. If you do that you are sunk. Tiny pockets. Dense biscuits.
As you may recall, I saw on a show one time where a woman made her award winning scones using grated butter. Grated! I thought, what a grate (get it?) idea and I began doing the same. Most of my scone recipes now call for grated butter.
Duh. Scones are like biscuits. What if I grated the butter into the biscuits?
Big, flaky layers.
Happy, happy me.
In order for this to work you need to have the butter very cold – frozen if you think about it. It will grate much easier. You are not going to pinch the butter into the flour or rub it in, you are going to lightly mix the shredded butter with the flour mixture.
I know some people use shortening, especially a certain kind of shortening, and think it is the best thing ever. If you like it, that’s great but I think shortening (besides being unhealthy) leaves a coating of fat on the tongue which dulls the flavors and I don’t like the feeling.
If you have access to real lard, and I am not talking about the kind that you get at the grocery store, real leaf lard from a farm that raises heritage breed pigs (like Weksny Acres) then by all means use part leaf lard and part butter. The difference is astounding. And, for the record, real lard is not bad for you. It is the stuff that they process and add stuff to and then packaged in boxes at room temperature that is deadly.
Once all of the butter shreds are coated in the flour mixture make a well and add the liquid ingredients. In this recipe I use buttermilk and bacon fat for a little extra flavor.
Mix quickly with your fingertips and gather into a loose ball of sticky dough but be careful not to compact it. Gently, gently.
Pat it out on a cold surface (I have a granite slab) into a circle of dough about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut straight down with your biscuit cutter – DO NOT twist.
Now, you can chill the dough in the freezer for ten minutes or so if you have time but if you don’t just carry on. Brush the tops with a little buttermilk if you like them pale or melted butter if you like them golden.
Now you need to make another choice. Do you like the biscuits soft or crusty? If you like them soft sides and on the pale side you need to put them close together in a 13 x 9 inch casserole pan.
If you like them crusty all around then put them on a cookie sheet with a good space between them. Make them both ways and see which you like best. For me, if I am serving them with gravy or as shortcakes I like the crustier biscuit while I like the softer one for eating with butter and jam.
You seriously need to try these.
© 2012 Marye Audet