lovin’ me some biscuits

Here’s the thing about me and biscuits: Like any good Southerner — yes, this thoroughly indoctrinated Manhattanite is a Southerner by birth —  Like any good Southerner, I love me some biscuits. But I also hate them. I hate them because I’ve never mastered the art of making them. So what better place to embark on my quest for biscuit perfection that to throw down in front of y’all and see if I can’t overcome this most embarrassing handicap.  (I know, I know, keep the ingredients cold and don’t overwork the dough. But mine STILL turn out like hockey pucks! Every. Last. Time.)

Daddy makes terrific buttermilk biscuits and my friend Michael – my cake baking advisor from last week’s post – has revived my envy of the skill. Year after year, weekend after weekend at a little piece of paradise in Upstate New York, Michael makes biscuits that leave me in awe. Although he has encouraged me many times, I don’t dare touch the dough lest my hockey-puck curse take hold in his kitchen.  So Michael mixes and rolls and bakes and I watch and gobble up a little more than my share of the biscuit bounty.

Now it’s time for me to try. Again. So this past weekend, my sweetie amassed this collection:

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And proceeded to try and teach me. A WORD ABOUT THIS RECIPE: IT’S GOOD, BUT IMPERFECT. I have a call in to Michael for some extra tips and thought I’d peruse some other recipes this week to try a variation or two this weekend. So there’s more biscuit intel to come.

Here’s an excellent first start:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Use these ratios:

2 cups flour to 1 cup buttermilk
6 tbsp butter to 1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt to ½ tsp baking powder

Sift the flour and combine the other dry ingredients into a large bowl. Stir with a fork. Cut the very cold butter into chunks about the size of a square centimeter, being careful to keep it cold. Pop it back into the refrigerator if necessary. Better yet (I just thought of this) maybe cut it into cubes the night before and put it back in the fridge. Add the butter to the flour mixture and lightly combine with a fork so it looks like this:

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Use the fork to mash the butter thoroughly into the flour until the pieces look like the size of small canned peas (not to be confused with big, plump FRESH peas.) Using the fork keeps the mixture cooler than mixing it with warm hands would allow. When finished, it should look like this:

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Next, add the buttermilk in a stream while stirring until just combined into a dough that’s slightly on the wet side. Add a little more buttermilk if needed. It should look this way:

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Flour the counter or a cutting board and turn the dough out onto this surface. Turn the dough over just once, until it’s covered lightly with flour. Now this is the part everyone emphasizes: DON’T OVERWORK THE DARN DOUGH!!!  If you do, you’ll get HOCKEY PUCKS!

So my sweetie’s trick is to do only this: press the dough into a disk about 6 inches around:

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Then trifold it, folding 1/3 of the disk into the center, then the other 1/3 over that. Turn it over, press out into a disk about 6 inches again and repeat the 1/3 fold-over five times and STOP! Press the dough out until it’s about ¾ inch thick and use the rim of a glass or an empty can with the lid cut off to cut out the biscuit rounds. It helps to dip the rim of the glass in water, periodically wiping the rim of clumping dough.

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Butter a cookie sheet, keeping in mind that a true cookie sheet is flat at the edges, allowing air to circulate better around the base of whatever you are cooking. This is not to be confused with a sheet pan that has ridges all the way around, but a sheet pan will do in a pinch. Arrange the biscuits on the pan. We experimented here, positioning some together and some apart from one another and found those with distance between them rose more. Here are the final results:

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Definitely not hockey pucks. And better yet:

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So here’s the thing. I never actually TOUCHED this dough. This was a lesson, and an overall success. I’m curious to hear and read what others think about using Crisco rather than butter. There was also something just a little tiny bit dry about these to me, maybe just a tad too much baking soda. Thoughts? So this week I’m reading up, gathering advice from my Daddy, my pal Mikey and my friend Dolores. Then it’s time to take what I learn and get my hands dirty again, or doughy, as the case may be.

Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “lovin’ me some biscuits

  1. Sharon, your biscuits look quite tasty and I think your instructions are quite good (the more commentary is always better than less in my book!). Here are a few additional thoughts that work for me:

    1. The colder the butter and buttermilk the better (as you say) because the heat in the oven reacts with the cold moisture and that’s what gives you flaky! Seet #2 and #3…
    2. PREP BUTTER: Cut it into cubes as your first step and put it in a bowl in the freezer until right before you need it.
    3. PREP BUTTER MILK: pre-measure it and leave it in the frig until right before you need it.
    4. MIX BUTTER AND FLOUR BY HAND: I use my hands which allows there to be both pea shaped pieces but also flat flakes. I do a quick pinching/rubbing motion, rubbing the flour into the cubes of butter as they get smaller always keeping my fingers covered in flour. The butter out of the freezer is really hard so the heat of your hands doesn’t affect things if you work fast. I think use a fork to mix when I add the buttermilk.
    5. CUT BISCUITS CLOSE TOGETHER: when you press the biscuit cutter (or glass) do each cut as close to the previous one as possible so you have fewer smaller scraps to put back tougher for the final few biscuits. Also, I dip the cutter in flour, not water. And do not under any circumstances twist the cutter; press down and pull up. Twisting works the batter.
    6. USE A GOOD PAN AND PARCHMENT PAPER. The pan is everything (I like Vollrath) and parchment allows the tops to get light brown but the bottoms not to overcook.
    7. IF YOU FEEL THE BATTER GOT TO WARM, put the cut biscuits in the freezer for 20 minutes and then directly into the oven.

    That’s all I got for ya! Not sure you need this because yours looks great!

    • Ladies and Gentlemen – The expert appears! Thanks SO much, Michael! Really great tips here. I’ll definitely employ them this weekend and report back. Excited!
      S.

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