Thursday, May 30, 2013

Random Cookbook of the Week: Southern Biscuits

Awhile back I stumbled upon the Kindle version of Southern Biscuits on sale for $0.99, or maybe it was $1.99--a price point that silenced the voice in my head that says, "You don't need another cookbook."

I grew up eating, and taking for granted, my mother's amazing homemade buttermilk biscuits. She whipped them together without a recipe or even measuring her ingredients, and they were wondrous tangy, buttery, airy bits of deliciousness. Unfortunately I spent my entire childhood trying my hardest to prove I wasn't like my mother AT ALL, thank you very much, and by the time I wanted to learn to make her biscuits, she'd stopped making them. You see, she'd found a frozen brand she liked, and she thought they were just as good for far less trouble. I didn't quite agree. To me the frozen biscuits, though far better than any national brand I could get up here in Yankee country (I'm using the Southern terminology by which the Pacific Northwest is every bit as Yankee as New England), were nowhere close to my mom's. (And, for those of you NOT in Yankee country, I unfortunately can't recall the brand she swore by. She bought them at Piggly Wiggly, and they came in large quantities in a clear plastic bag.)

Anyway, this week's cookbook. I've tried to make biscuits in the past without any grand success, so I deliberately picked something from the beginner chapter, knowing full well I wasn't going to resurrect Mom's biscuits, but hoping for something better than what I can buy frozen or refrigerated up the street at Safeway.

Rachel's Very Beginner's Cream Biscuits

- 2 1/4 c. self-rising flour, divided
- 1 1/4 c. heavy cream, divided
- Butter, softened or melted, for finishing

Preheat oven to 450 F.  Select either a 8 or 9-inch cake pan or oven-proof skillet if you want to nestle to biscuits together to create a soft exterior, or a baking sheet or pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart for a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.

Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of flour in a large bowl, and set aside the remaining 1/4 cup.

Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 1 cup of cream into the hollow, reserving 1/4 c. of cream, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the cream Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 T. on reserved cream, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat dough out into a 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick round using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a 1/2-inch thick round for a normal biscuit, 3/4-inch for a tall biscuit, and 1-inch for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.

Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10-14 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with butter.

Behold, biscuits! The lumpy-looking ones were made from scraps, and were indeed tougher, but they all tasted good. Southern, even. We had them for breakfast Monday, half sandwiched with sausage and half with jam, and we three Frasers, even the finicky 9-year-old, made short work of ten biscuits.

Though this is a recipe for beginning biscuit makers, I wouldn't call it one for beginning cooks. Sure, there are three ingredients, and it takes maybe fifteen minutes to assemble counting the time spent rummaging for the right pan, but it takes a certain amount of culinary judgement to know when the dough is just right. I doubt I could've pulled it off before I started challenging myself as a cook a few years ago.

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