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.

Cheddar-Sage Biscuits

2 cups flour
pinch salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbl cold shortening
3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
sage leaves
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.


Anonymous said...

Those look fabulous too! I make a similar biscuit, but never thought about adding a touch of sage. Great addition!

Anonymous said...

I love the sage leaf on top. Well, I love cheddar and sage and biscuits.
Since I generally only cook for two, I have a big problem with a regular biscuit recipe - that many biscuits for two people at one sitting leads to a lot of sitting. So, one of the best things I've learned is to make up the biscuit recipe, shape them, put them on the cookie sheet and...freeze them, wrap them individually after they've frozen. Then I can have two or 22 biscuits when I'm ready and they'll be fresh and hot each time. And I think the freezing makes them rise higher!

Anonymous said...

i saw your recipe just yesterday, and made them for dinner. this is a fantastic and simple recipe for lovely biscuits. and the sage was amazing. i used a sharp cheddar, but the taste was a bit muted. next time i will be more generous. and, you were right, it needed a little more buttermilk. i will definitely make these again. and again. and again...

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