Thursday, April 10, 2008

Classic Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

There are a few recipes that I make all the time that I don't mess with that often. Recipes that are so good just the way they are, recipes that have never failed me and have never failed to impress others. One of the recipes that falls into this category is my go-to buttermilk biscuit recipe. I love those biscuits and make them fairly often. However, I also know that those biscuits -- despite tasting great -- aren't exactly light and fluffy Southern biscuits. Instead they tend to come out low and dense and extremely buttery -- they have a fantastic flavor and a decent texture, with a thick, crispy layer on the bottom where the thick coating of melted butter they bake in almost fries the bottom -- but they are not the biscuits you think of when you think of Southern cooking.

From my various foody reading I have learned that one of the keys to true Southern biscuits is actually a brand of flour -- White Lilly. Since I don't live in the deep south, that flour isn't readily available around here, but one of Chris' coworkers recently went to South Carolina and she picked up a bag of it for me. I thought about making my regular recipe with it just to see how much of a difference it would make, but instead I made a recipe touting itself as Classic Southern Buttermilk Biscuits from my Passion for Baking book.

The recipe calls for White Lilly flour if you can get it, or a combination of all-purpose and pastry to mimic the properties of the White Lilly flour. It calls for far less butter than my regular recipe, and for a whole lot of baking powder -- clearly these biscuits are getting their lift from the baking powder and not from layers of butter melting.

When they came out of the oven they were indeed impressive looking with a lightly golden top and a visibly tender texture and proper biscuit layering. After I took a bite I acknowledged that they also had a superior texture to my biscuits, light and fluffy and exactly what you think of when you imagine the texture of Southern biscuits... and now of course the "but"...

I didn't like the flavor. At all. They were slightly dry and had a distinct chemical flavor to them -- almost certainly from all the baking powder that was added. I actually had the thought "wow, I'll bet these would be great with some sausage gravy to cover that funky flavor" except for the fact that a good biscuit should be something you can't stop yourself from nibbling on hot from the oven, and under no circumstances should good homemade buttermilk biscuits remind you of bisquik biscuits. ugh.

This recipe will not be repeated in my house. I will put it on the blog if anyone else wants to try them, but I will stick with my tried and true recipe for now.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup pastry flour (or 2 cups of White Lilly flour)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps shortening or butter (I used butter)
2/3 to 3/4 cup buttermilk
melted butter for brushing

Preheat oven to 425. Stack two baking sheets together and line top sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, add flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and blend briefly. Add shortening (or butter) and pulse to make a coarse grainy mixture. Sprinkle buttermilk over flour mixture, stirring lightly with a fork until ingredients are evenly moistened; mix by hand. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few more times until you are able to gently roll dough or it holds together.

Pat or roll out to 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness and cut with a 2-inch cookie cutter. Brush with melted butter and bake until lightly browned about 12 to 14 minutes.


bjs said...

the red sage biscuits were outstanding. a not-so-tiny silver lining to a couple of extremely boring, frustrating days. thanks for makin' em!

Anonymous said...

agreed. but you know, i -do- love biscuits and gravy (i actually prefer plain gravy to sausage gravy, but both are good), and if i wanted biscuits and gravy, would i choose to bake the more flavorful biscuit that tastes so good by itself that i might think it's a waste to put gravy on it, or i should go with the more flavorless biscuit that would make me appreciate the gravy more? hmmm....a conundrum, indeed.

sjb said...

not a hard conundrum to solve -- definitely go with the more flavorful biscuit w/o gravy -- since it's harder to make a biscuit taste this good, than it is to make gravy taste good, the experience (of eating it) is more interesting and surprising as a result.

Mira said...

i must say the red sage was far superior, but not an avid biscuit eater myself, i still enjoyed these biscuits as well. i made sure to try the southern buttermilk before the red sage (that was based upon other tasters' recommendations), though. i'm fascinated by the fact that flour makes such a HUGE difference!

so biscuit pusher won't be pushing them biscuits, eh? ;)

bjs said...

yeah, all votes are for the red sage so far. interesting...