Biscuit Bliss

Black & Blue Biscuits

Black & Blue Biscuits

Recently a friend commented that despite the fact that he was born and raised in the South, and grew up cooking with his grandmother, he was somehow shorted on the all important southern “biscuit gene”.  Aren’t all southerner’s supposed to be able to whip out the flour, add some lard and 10 minutes later have biscuits rising to lofty heights in the oven???

If you too were born “sans biscuit gene”, or thought “wamp-um biscuits” were the ultimate…hang in there…all is not lost!  (In case you’re wondering….”wamp-um biscuits”  are thus named as you “wamp-um on the counter” to crack open the tube.  Can’t take credit or blame for that one folks…my friends Parker and Craig opened my eyes to that bit of etymology.)  Truth be told…you don’t need a special gene (although eat enough and you might need new jeans), nor do you have to even be Southern (I could be run out of town for that one so PLEASE don’t tell anyone you heard it from me…)  All you need are a few nuggets of knowledge to understand what makes biscuits tick.

Biscuit Genealogy

Biscuits are a part of the “quick bread” family of breads….quick because they use chemical leavening such as baking powder or baking soda which both produce gas quickly (very much like my dinner last night…but that’s another story), they need to go in the oven quickly to maintain the gas in the dough, and you should mix them quickly to avoid over-developing the gluten.  Come to think of it…the only thing that is not quick about quick breads is trying to explain why they are quick!

Love Me Tender…

The key characteristic of quick breads is a light and tender crumb.  In the cases of biscuits, that would also include distinctive flakiness (flakiness in biscuits = good, flakiness in friends=bad).  Tenderness is affected by flour (use low protein for best results) and handling methods (handle as little as possible to avoid over-developing gluten), and fat (the more fat you have the more tender the results….  this applies to fat in the dough, not YOU yourself!).

Biscuit Ingredients

Biscuit Ingredients

Fat is Your Friend

As fat is worked into the dry ingredients, it coats the gluten strands and keeps them from linking up with one another.  The shorter the strands, the more tender your dough.  The more fat in the mix, the less gluten will develop.  All fats will provide tenderness but only solid fats provide the flakiness that is one of those most sought after textures in a biscuit.  Solid fats should be worked into the dough until they are broken into the size of small corn kernels.  As the fat heats and melts, it leaves small pockets that expand slightly from steam and help to provide the characteristic flakiness that we seek in our biscuits and avoid in our friends!

“Uhhh…wait, shouldn’t there be some sort of liquid in there?”

I’m so glad you asked!  Yes, of course we need some sort of liquid to bring the party together (reminds me of last weekend…).  Water would work but no flavor factor there.  Milk…sure it does a body good but what about biscuits?

Did I hear someone say Buttermilk????  Ding…ding…ding…we have a winner!

First, let’s dispel the myth….yes, the name sounds like it would be high in fat but in reality most buttermilk is actually low to non-fat.  Originally buttermilk was the liquid that remained after churning the cream into butter.  The fat coagulated and formed the butter as it separated from the cream.  The resulting liquid was referred to as “Buttermilk” since it would often have small bits of butter floating in it.  Today most commercially available buttermilk is “cultured” by adding bacteria to the milk to create the distinctive sour taste.  Buttermilk biscuits are as synonymous with the south as plastic surgery is to Joan Rivers.  You just can’t think of one without the other.

 Why Buttermilk in Biscuits????

I’m so glad you asked!!  The acidic nature of buttermilk raises the pH level of the dough and acidic doughs don’t allow gluten to develop as easily.  Since tenderness is caused by a lack of gluten, acidic doughs by their very nature are more tender!

 

My niece Delana Sehnert brushing biscuits.
My niece Delana Sehnert brushing biscuits.

Tips for Biscuits that Would Make Mama Proud:

Use low-protein flour (southern brands such as White Lily/Martha White, or cake flour which is both low-protein and acidic! 

Chill flour first (put bowl in freezer to quick-chill) if the kitchen is warm. This will help keep the fat cold. 

Keep fat very cold to maintain distinct pieces when incorporating into flour 

Thoroughly mix dry ingredients and then make a well in the center for adding the liquid.  FOLD, do not mix or stir the dough.  The less it is handled the more tender it will be. 

Minimize the amount of flour worked into the dough if you’re cutting biscuits out with a cutter on the counter-top.  The more moisture that is absorbed by flour, the less there is to turn to steam during baking.  No steam=flat biscuits. 

When cutting biscuits with a cutter, avoid twisting the cutter.  Instead, push straight down. Twisting can pinch the edges together and keep them from rising evenly.

Bake in a HOT oven.  High heat is necessary to produce steam and cause the rising before the fat simply melts away and produces a biscuit that is heavy and greasy (image of lunchroom lady in my head…)

Now that you have been schooled in the finer points of biscuit making…how about a go at my “Black & Blue Biscuits”?   These are excellent when turned into Biscuit BLT’s!

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“Black & Blue” Biscuits

Bacon grease replaces part of the shortening in these biscuits to provide a unique bacon flavor without it being directly in the biscuits.  Cutting the biscuits in squares eliminates the need to “re-roll” the dough, thus toughening it from over-working the gluten.

 Yield: 9 3”x 3” square biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour* (preferably low-protein such as White Lily brand)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon baking soda
4 green onions, sliced cross-wise into slices
1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons bacon grease, chilled until firm
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
¾ cup buttermilk
 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
All-purpose flour for dusting counter

 Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

 Combine flour, pepper, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together dry ingredients to thoroughly combine.  Set aside.

 Place sliced green onions and butter in a small microwave-safe dish.  Cover with plastic wrap and cook at high power for approximately 30 seconds to cook green onions.  Add to dry ingredients and mix completely to evenly distribute.  Add bacon grease and shortening to dry ingredients and using fingertips, work into corn kernel size bits.  Be careful not to work into too fine of particles or biscuits will be mealy.  Add blue cheese crumbles and mix well.

 Make a well in the center of dry ingredients by pulling mixture up to sides of bowl.  Pour buttermilk in center of well and carefully fold dry ingredients into liquid just until moistened.

Bring dough together in center of bowl.  Lightly flour the countertop.  Dump dough out onto floured countertop and lightly dust with additional flour.  Lightly pat out dough into a 9 inch square.  Using a knife or large metal spatula, mark dough into thirds one direction and then the other.  Cut through marks to cut dough into 9 squares.  Place dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and bake in preheated oven for approximately 20-25 minutes.

 Cool and serve with softened butter for spreading or use as a base for BLT sandwiches.

 *Substitution for Self-Rising Flour:  1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder.  Use cake flour in place of all-purpose flour in the substitution if a low-protein self-rising flour is not available.

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Black & Blue Biscuits in Oven
Black & Blue Biscuits in Oven

 

 

5 Comments on “Biscuit Bliss”

  1. The parenthetical wit in this article is quite amusing.

    One tip, though. Be sure to link to your article on flour when it comes up in a recipe. People who don’t follow your blog regularly and stumble upon this article will appreciate the quick reference.

    -Ben McCormack

    1. Whew…glad to hear it was amusing to someone other than myself!
      Again, great suggestion on the link….I’m still learning to think like a “blogger”. I appreciate the feedback.

      Darin

  2. I have fought my lack of the biscuit gene for years, finally I mastered cornbread this past summer!

    I will use your helpful hints and see if I can succeed!

  3. Pingback: Laborless Labor Day

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