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story.lead_photo.caption Homemade Buttermilk biscuits. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Talking about biscuits can get downright sensual. Even a little naughty.

They're warm, flaky, steamy, soft, rounded, fragrant, buttery, golden, glistening and immensely satisfying.

Basically, they are everything you could ever want in a breakfast bread, a luncheon carbohydrate or even a dinner roll. They are fun to make, as well and not too hard.

The best part, though, is smelling them as they cook, with the anticipation of biting into them when they are still warm enough to melt butter and soak up jam or honey.

Recently, I made dozens of biscuits in an assortment of styles, sizes and textures. This experience has given me insight into certain biscuit facts:

As with pie crusts and bread, the more you work a biscuit dough the tougher the results will be. The dry and wet ingredients in biscuits are always mixed just until they come together to form a ball.

Biscuits are leavened with baking powder or both baking powder and baking soda. They are never made with yeast. But as with all good rules, there is an exception: Angel biscuits are made with baking powder, baking soda and yeast.

Self-rising flour, which is essential in many Southern biscuit recipes, is flour with baking powder mixed into it, along with a couple of phosphates.

In the South, biscuits are usually made with White Lily brand flour, which is made from soft winter wheat. Winter wheat has less protein than spring wheat, which means baked goods made from it are softer and lighter than those made from other brands.

Shirley O. Corriher, a native Georgian who is something of a legend in the culinary world, has devised a clever workaround for people who want Southern biscuits but can't find White Lily self-rising flour: Mix together a national brand of self-rising flour with cake flour (which has very low protein) and add some baking soda.

The biscuit cutter, which resembles a taller version of a cookie cutter, was invented in 1875 by Alexander P. Ashbourne. They aren't necessary for making biscuits, but they sure help and are fun to use.

Biscuit cutters should be pressed down through the dough. Twisting them essentially seals the biscuit's edge, which keeps them from rising evenly.

Biscuits have more calories than you think. I'm sorry, but it can't be helped. That's why they taste so good.

Here are the biscuits I made:

Buttermilk Biscuits

These rose the highest of all the biscuits I made. Why? Buttermilk is fairly acidic, and when mixed with the small amount of baking soda in the dough, it reacts the same way baking soda reacts when mixed with vinegar: It bubbles. The bubbles create tiny air pockets, which make the biscuits rise.

Buttermilk also happens to have just the right taste for biscuits. That slight tang gives them a flavorful warmth and hominess biscuit-lovers crave.

Fabulous Biscuits

The name sounds a little bit too much like shameless self-promotion, right? And in fact, the biscuits themselves are kind of ordinary — if anything as transcendent as a biscuit could ever be considered ordinary. But just before baking, you dip every piece of dough all the way into melted butter. As a result, the cooked biscuits are the most buttery things ever. And that makes them fabulous.

Touch of Grace Biscuits

"Touch of heaven" might be a better name. These lightly sweet Southern specialties are impossibly light and delicately flavored. You don't reach for them on the platter as much as grab them as they float up to the ceiling.

Cream Biscuits

These are classics. If you close your eyes and picture a biscuit, this is probably what you see. The cream makes them rich and a little decadent. They are also the fastest and easiest to make of the bunch, if you want a hit of decadence on the fly.

Chef Christian's Southern Drop Biscuits

Drop biscuits are heavier and more substantial than typical flaky biscuits. They are different, but no less delicious. This sweet recipe comes from the chef at a Cincinnati biscuit restaurant, which may be the best idea ever.

Angel Biscuits

These are the ones that have yeast in them, along with baking powder and baking soda. Not surprisingly, they rise especially well. Mild and pleasantly flavored, they are hearty and satisfying despite — as the name implies — being as light as an angel's wings.

THE RECIPES

FABULOUS BISCUITS

Yield: 12 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a mixing bowl. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly. Gather the dough together; if it is still dry and crumbly, gradually add a little more cream until it holds together.

3. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute. Pat the dough into a square that is about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 12 squares and dip each into the melted butter so all sides are coated. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are lightly browned.

CREAM BISCUITS

Yield: 8-10 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the counter

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until the dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead the dough briefly until smooth, about 30 seconds.

2. Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch thick circle. Cut the biscuits into rounds using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter or into eight wedges using a knife. Place the biscuits on the parchment-lined baking sheet. (The baking sheet can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.) Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

ANGEL BISCUITS

Makes: about 24 servings

4 1/2-5 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) dry yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shortening, lard preferred

2 cups buttermilk

Note: This recipe needs to be refrigerated overnight.

1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. Drop chunks of shortening into the flour; work in the shortening with your hands, two knives cutting across each other or a pastry blender. The flour will resemble grains of rice or smaller.

2. Stir the buttermilk into the flour; mix it thoroughly but do not knead. The dough will be wet and heavy, but it will become stiff and workable when it has been chilled in the refrigerator.

3. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees at least 20 minutes before baking. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

5. Pinch off only enough dough to make the desired number of biscuits. Return the balance of the dough to the refrigerator or freeze.

6. Knead the dough under your palms for 3 or 4 minutes. Roll into a rectangle, fold into thirds and roll again. Fold and roll one more time. The dough should be about 1/2-inch thick.

7. Cut the dough with a cutter of the desired size and place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Do not allow to rise (they will bake up taller but will taste doughy).

8. Bake on the oven's middle shelf for 15-17 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

Yield: 12 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a knife, a pastry cutter or your fingers, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Quickly but gently stir in the buttermilk, just until the dough holds together. Don't overstir or the biscuits will be tough.

3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead gently with floured hands. Press the dough into a ball, cut it in half. Place one half on top of the other and press down. Repeat three or four times. Then roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut rounds with a biscuit-cutter or glass, or cut rectangles with a knife. Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving a little space between them.

4. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the biscuits are golden. Serve warm.

CHEF CHRISTIAN'S SOUTHERN DROP BISCUITS

Makes: about 14 servings

400 grams (3 cups plus 1 tablespoon) self-rising flour

35 grams (2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

75 grams (1/2 cup) lard or vegetable shortening

160 grams (11 1/2 tablespoons) frozen shredded butter, see note

1 cup cold buttermilk

Note: Place butter in freezer several hours before using. When ready to use, shred using a box shredder, shredding attachment on a food processor or even a blender. Place shredded butter back into freezer until you are ready to use.

1. Preheat convection oven to 405 degrees or standard oven to 420 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add lard and, using your fingers, work into dry ingredients until it forms small pebbles of lard and flour.

3. Lightly toss shredded butter in with lard and flour mixture. Using your hands or a silicone spatula, quickly work butter into mix. Pour cold buttermilk into the bowl and mix until all ingredients are combined and there are no stray crumbs.

4. Use a 1 1/2-ounce ice cream scoop to portion out drop biscuits, gently packing the scoop so each biscuit is the same size. Evenly distribute drop biscuits on prepared baking sheet as if you are making cookies.

5. Bake 8 minutes or until the outside is golden brown (approximately 12 minutes in a conventional oven). Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

TOUCH OF GRACE BISCUITS

Yield: 10 servings

1 1/2 cups Southern self-rising flour, such as White Lily, see note

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

3 tablespoons shortening

1-1 1/4 cups buttermilk, or 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream

1 cup all-purpose flour for shaping, see notes

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Notes: Not all White Lily four is self- rising.

If Southern self-rising flour is not available, use 1 cup national brand self-rising all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup cake flour or instant flour (such as Shake & Bake or Wondra), plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. If self-rising flour is not available, use all-purpose flour and a total of 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder.

Do not use self-rising flour for shaping because the leavener will give a bitter taste to the outside of the biscuits.

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and spray an 8-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Combine the self-rising flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. With your fingers or a pastry cutter, work the shortening into the flour mixture until there are no shortening lumps larger than a big pea.

3. Stir in the buttermilk and let stand for 2-3 minutes. This dough is so wet that you cannot shape it in the usual manner.

4. Pour the cup of all-purpose flour onto a plate or pie tin. Flour your hands well. Spoon a biscuit-sized lump of wet dough into the flour and sprinkle some flour over the wet dough to coat the outside. Pick up the biscuit and shape it roughly into a soft round. At the same time, shake off the excess flour. Push the biscuits tightly against one another in the cake pan so that they will rise up and not spread out. Continue shaping biscuits in this manner until all of the dough is used.

5. Brush the biscuits with melted butter and bake just above the center of the oven until lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. Cool for 1-2 minutes in the pan, then dump out and cut the biscuits apart. Serve while hot.

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