Last night, I had a chicken and biscuit dinner meal. My father-in-law ordered the same dish at the restaurant, and when it arrived, he commented quietly to himself, “a biscuit instead of a bun, that’s a good idea.”
I personally tend to side with anyone who thinks a biscuit instead of anything else is a good thing. I am a fiend for a good biscuit.
A friend of mine grew up in the South watching her mother make biscuits – I visited their home when I was particularly worn down from a crazy job and she made biscuits for me. There was probably something else to the meal, but what I remember is that she didn’t measure anything, didn’t need to, just knew when she’d sifted enough flour in and when the dough was setting up right. It was more like magic than cooking, though to be fair I thought pretty much any dish that turns out consistently good is magical. I planned to take two of the biscuits home for later but I honestly ate them in the car on my way back to the crazy job.
This magical aspect extends to a lot of the recipes I received: some of them had such directions as “Mix first 6 ingredients. Add second 3. Pour last ingredient on top.” Fancy cooking with crazy whisking techniques these were not. In the case of S’s biscuits, there were no directions at all. I knew from the RSVP card that “S’s biscuit recipe is forthcoming,” which was of course intriguing, but even after I received S’s present (an enormous white bowl with a flat bottom, circular biscuit cutters, a pack of Southern biscuit flour, a pastry cutter), I still wasn’t sure about this all-important recipe. So I texted S, intrigued. He told me the recipe on the back of the biscuit flour is best. He said to use butter and buttermilk, or yogurt if not buttermilk was available. He gave me advice on flour (use Southern flours, self-rising if at all possible. He also told me that the large flat bottom bowl is big enough to make the dough and cut the biscuits right in it – no messy countertops!
Biscuit making sounded like a pleasure with these instructions and tools. My past experience trying to make biscuits was mostly while living in Spain, where most bread is the bubbly, crusty-outside, soft-inside variety. Such bread tasted divine with tomato and olive oil and a tiny bit of salt, but it did make me crave bread that felt like it was only a whisper away from being made entirely of butter. I wanted layers, and melty fluff. What I got, when I made biscuits, was definitely buttery, but never quite measured up. Internet recipes didn’t treat me well, and maybe I was not particularly precise.
It was, however, a pleasure to be precise when making S’s recipe. For one thing, it was simple: I didn’t have buttermilk and I knew I would never use the extra, so I used honey-flavored greek yogurt, a staple in my house. I figured I’d end up sweetening the biscuits, which in this case ended up being delightful. The pastry cutter is a tool that I never wanted to own because it’s so hard to clean, but in the end, I loved it because it does what no other tool does well: gets butter down to pea-sized chunks without kneading or just melting the butter. My hands didn’t even touch the dough until after it was already starting to shape up well. I then pressed the dough into every corner of the flat bottom bowl, and sure enough, the bowl was big enough. Instead of shaping little hamburger-looking balls, I got to slice into them with circular steel, which made the dough yield in a really wonderful, springy way, and made them look like actual biscuits. I baked them up without letting them rise, which was probably an issue, but I didn’t care.
Afterwards, they were what I wanted – I still smoothed them over with more butter and Husband slathered honey on, but we ate the whole batch while watching some superhero movie on a Saturday morning. S was a little stunned when I texted him about half an hour after his original instructions to say the biscuits were delicious. Obviously I will have to try them again and actually let them rise, but it was amazing how much the right tools made cooking a pleasure: I understood now why S always gave me long lectures about the utility of certain cooking tools and ingredients. He was a precise person and I was a kitchen dervish, but I could try on that hat for a recipe or two, if it yielded that kind of carb-and-fat perfection.
Sustainability and Healthy Substitutes: Well, buying ingredients I know I won’t use up is wasteful, so in this case, my substitute served as my sustainability. I don’t think yogurt is inherently better than buttermilk, but given that the greek yogurt we use has a ton of protein in it, I’m sure that packed a little more umph in there alongside the flour… and the butter… Nah, no sustainability or health subs for this one. Just expediency, which is fairly essential with biscuits.
(Pictures will accompany future entries, but this one will have to be a mystery; there is no photographic evidence of the immediately-scarfed batch).
Southern Biscuit (trademarked) Biscuit Recipe
Makes about 12 biscuits
- 2 cups Southern Biscuit Self-Rising Flour
- 1 teaspoon of sugar, optional
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, butter, or lard
- 2/3 to 3/4 cup milk or buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons melted butter, optional topping
- Heat oven to 450 degrees F
- Measure flour into bowl. Stir in sugar if desired. Cut in shortening using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingertips until clumps are the size of peas.
- Add milk or buttermilk and stir just until flour is moistened. For a wetter dough, add additional milk.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to 1/2-inch thickness.
- Cut biscuits using a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter. For softer biscuits, place biscuits on baking sheet so they touch.
- Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter if desired.