21 December 2006
Bake Me a Biscuit
If there is any kitchen skill I am most proud of, it is my ability to make biscuits and pie crusts. My knife-skills are ok, my knowledge of sauces so-so, but when it comes to biscuits, I’ll allow myself to rest on my laurels a bit. Now these skills are also prerequisites of any good cook with Southern roots, preferably learned at the side of their grandmother in a kitchen with formica countertops and a sea-foam green mixer. I never had the opportunity to cook with my own grandmother, but when I am making biscuits or collard greens I feel her spirit is there with me, quietly watching as I cut with her old mishapen biscuit cutters.
At dinner once I had made some cheddar-biscuits and a family member said to his wife, “why don’t we ever have biscuits like these?” I took that as quite a compliment, though I hope the wife in question wasn’t offended. There are many ways to spice up your basic biscuit, just as there are a myriad of biscuit recipes (think cream biscuits, baking powder biscuits, drop biscuits, beaten biscuits). These cheddar biscuits are simple drop-biscuits, you don’t even have to roll the dough out. They are made special with a browned sage leaf on top, it’s aroma perfuming the biscuit. They are perfect any time- for breakfast, at lunch on the side of some tomato soup, or as part of a special dinner.
Making biscuits and pie crusts rely on very simple technique, though many cooks admit they are trepidatious of this. There are a couple key pointers to offer: don’t over mix or over handle the dough, the little lumps of butter in there have moisture in them, and the steam is what causes your biscuits to puff up in the oven. Using cold butter/shortening will keep those little bits intact. You also don’t want to develop too much gluten by over-handling the doungh, this will make your biscuits tough, simply pat out the dough and don’t try to re-roll it too much.
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbl cold shortening
3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tbl butter
- Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter so that the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the grated cheese. Stir in 3/4 cup of the buttermilk in a few swift strokes just to combine. You may need more buttermilk to get the right consistency. Drop biscuits on a greased baking sheet by large spoonfuls. Bake for 12 minutes. While they are baking, melt the butter in a suace pan, add the sage leaves and fry until just crisp. Top each biscuit with a drizzle of sage butter and a sage leaf.
-If you have White Lilly flour you can substitute that and omit the leaveners.
-To make cut-out biscuits, decrease buttermilk to 2/3 of a cup, knead the dough once or twice, then pat out the dough and cut with a biscuit cutter.