As a Southerner, you are born with the inherent capability to do many things, or so it is believed. Southerners by nature are very proud of their heritage, as I am of mine. The ability to make splendid fried chicken, barbecue, sweet tea, and biscuits, some think, are something a Southerner is just born knowing how to do.
Not the case with me.
I had to work at a group home cooking meals for six adults in order to learn how to properly make sweet tea. I had to teach myself.
I had to learn by trial and error how to make fried chicken. That wasn’t easy for me, as I am more confident in my baking skills than in my cooking skills.
Barbecue was not something I learned how to make over a fire pit or by using a smoker-it took my moving nearly 800 miles away to get it *almost* right.
And biscuits. Well, we have a long history.
My mother didn’t make biscuits, but my grandmother, oh, my sweet grandmother did. She made the somewhat flat kind with lard in them. She used a hollowed out wooden bowl to make them in-and she wouldn’t let me help, I was only allowed to watch. She patted the biscuits out and cut them with a jelly jar.
She made a chocolate gravy to go with her biscuits and we did what is called “soppin”. A term most Southerners use which means essentially cleaning the liquid off your plate by using the bread.
Grandma’s biscuits were somewhat flat-but they would melt in my mouth. She made them whenever I stayed over on Friday nights for breakfast the next morning, after a night of watching Bo & Luke Duke and whatever mischief J.R. Ewing had gotten himself into.
I remember a particular Saturday morning, having the biscuits for breakfast, and my mother came over earlier than usual. She kept rushing me to leave. I should have known something was up. It was mid March and my birthday was right around the corner. I kept refusing to leave, my mother kept insisting we leave. And so we left. And I was pretty mad about it. Little did I know, there was a surprise birthday party waiting me in our backyard. I turned eight that year and it was So much fun. Truth be told, as much fun as it was, I’d have been just fine with a biscuit that had a candle stuck in it.
My grandma is gone now, she has been for 17 years. I learned so much from her, and my love of biscuits is most definitely her fault. I can’t make biscuits like hers, but my sister can. Often, she makes them in a cast iron skillet, snuggled close together, or in a small skillet, all in one piece, and you kind of break that apart. Tangy and wonderful with jam or butter, they are perfect.
I often make Thomas Keller’s buttermilk biscuits. They do take awhile longer, but are flaky and very tall. I’ve tried many biscuit recipes in the past and Dorie’s ranks very high on my list. I do love biscuits with most anything and these did not disappoint.
Biscuits are so versatile. Dorie’s recipe calls for a few tablespoons of sugar, but I left that out. I’m not tremendously fond of the slightest sweetness in biscuits, unless I am making a shortcake. I made a few changes to the recipe. I used 1 stick of cold salted butter, 1 cup of shredded sharp Vermont cheddar, and made the biscuits with buttermilk, but I used 1 full cup. Before baking, I brushed buttermilk on the biscuits.
My biscuits were HUGE and they were delicious. I baked these for 10 minutes, rotated the pan from front to back, and baked for 10 minutes more. Then I brushed on a little melted butter. I ended up with 6 biscuits-which paired very nicely with the beef stew we had for supper.
After supper, I had 4 biscuits left. They went into a ziploc bag and into the freezer. I reheated some on a sheet tray the next night to go with some of the leftover stew from the night before, and we had the remaining two with scrambled eggs and sausage over the weekend. These biscuits freeze very well.
You can add so many things to biscuits-why not consider these add ins:
dill and cheddar cheese
black pepper and white cheddar
chopped pepperoni and mozzarella and red pepper flakes
chopped ham and swiss cheese
Just to name a few.
And biscuits are wonderful plain. Or with your favorite jam and butter. Or with a slice of cheese, egg, and bacon, sausage, country ham, or kielbasa. They are wonderful drizzled with honey or molasses. They are heavenly when split and filled with strawberries, blueberries, or peaches and topped with whipped cream. They are wonderful with any gravy-be it sausage, red eye, beef, or chocolate. They are a fabulous topper for a pot pie-wonderful dunked in soups or stews. Biscuits aren’t just for breakfast-they are a humble and outstanding accompaniment to ANY meal.
Thanks to Dorie for such a great recipe, we truly loved it in our home. And although I didn’t make this in a hollowed out wooden bowl, I did think of my sweet grandma and how much joy she brought to my life. Thank you for reminding me of that special time in my life. It’s so true that food can connect us-this time, it connected me with my past. I can almost smell her biscuits baking right now.
Basic Biscuits from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking From My Home To Yours”
2 cups all purpose flour (or 1-1/4 cups all purpose flour and 1/2 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
3/4 cold whole milk
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch diameter biscuit cutter, and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (Dorie’s favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between-and that’s just right.
Pour the milk over the dry ingredients, grab a fork and toss and gently turn the ingredients until you’ve got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading-3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin until it is 1/2 inch high. DOn’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even-a quick light touch is more important than accuracy.
Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of this round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2 inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)
Bake the biscuits for 14 to 18 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.
Buttermilk Biscuits: For a tangier, rich, flaky biscuit, add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to the dry ingredients and replace the whole milk with buttermilk.