April 19, 2008

a yearning for biscuits

Okay. You wake up on a Saturday morning and you find yourself, of all unlikely things, living in the South, with a Southerner in Nashville, Tenn. What happens when you then find yourself craving all kinds of unnatural things for breakfast (since you grew up in a Mexican-Italian household where breakfast was either huevos rancheros or Mom's special thin pancakes?) You make buttermilk biscuits, of course!

I will admit I've tried all kinds of biscuits since living here-- the ones from the Loveless cafe, and the ones from that weird place out in the country with Jesus paraphernalia all over the walls, and I'll even confess to trying the kind from a cardboard cylinrdrical pop-open thing (he made me). And recently, we tried some "all natural" (?) frozen variety from the local health food store. But we all know there's nothing healthy about biscuits, nor should there be. That's why they're not an everyday thing. But, as I quickly learned, when you get a craving, you gotta have some biscuits.

But the best kind of biscuit --even IF you didn't grow up with a Southern grandma in the kitchen-- are the kind you make from scratch, steamy and hot, right out of the oven. There are many, many recipes out there and I'm sure they're all the best according to their author, and I say go with it. Do whatever it takes, but just make yourself some biscuits already.

At work yesterday we made them with AP flour and polenta and TWO LBS of butter! Yep, that's right, two pounds of butter. It made about 30 biscuits and they WERE delicious, but still, that was an industrial sized amount of butter. We egg washed them, scattered herbs on the top and served them with fresh local honey and housemade strawberry-rhubarb jam. They were a hit.

But the ones I made one day in my kitchen were just as good, even without the two pounds of butter. I found the recipe in that issue of Gourmet from January this year which I hope you all have, even if you don't live in the South. It was all on Southern cooking and was a tremendous tribute to this region and its important culinary hertiage. That issue stays with me forever.

Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Scott Peacock's recipe found in Gourmet, Jan. 2008)

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T plus 1 t baking powder
1 T kosher salt
1/2 cup cold lard ( *if you don't have lard, why not? just use butter or shortening)
1 1/2 c. cold buttermilk (* I make my own using milk and lemon juice)
3 T unsalted butter, melted (for brushing the tops - optional)

Preheat oven to 500 with rack in middle
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl
Add butter or lard, coating with flour, then use fingertips to mix until coarsely blended with some lumps of butter
Make a well in flour mixture, then add buttermilk and mix --but not too much! just until it comes together (it will be soft and sticky)
Turn dough out on floured surface and roll to 1 and a 1/2 in thick; fold dough over itself and roll again.
Using your biscuit round or round cookie cutter, cut out as many as you can, without twisting the cutter.
Bake, almost touching on ungreased sheet until crusty and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter (or just brush with egg wash before baking).
Serve warm with jam and honey, or however you like your bicuits. There won't be any left over, I promise!


  1. My great-grandmother (a Southerner, of course) made biscuits with lard. It seems counter-intuitive that a lard biscuit would be the lightest and fluffiest, but it is and hers were the best. One of the most difficult things about being both Southern and vegetarian is never being able to have good lard biscuits...

  2. joy - this post is beautiful in every way. i'm really enjoying your blog.

    i must admit i've NEVER done the biscuit thing from scratch before...

  3. My grandmother--from Appalachian KY--makes buttermilk biscuits with lard, which she collects in old Crisco cans. I have always loved them, but it wasn't until I was an adult and started baking that I realized her biscuits are kinda flat and not as flaky as typical biscuits. She even admits that she's never mastered the biscuit. Still, I can't get enough of them!


  4. lesley and diana: I'm so glad I have real Southerners like you to give me the lowdown on the biscuits. I know lard is supposed to be the best, but who has lard anymore? where does one get lard? and, diana, the polenta which needed to be ground in the processor to make it finer, acts just like cornmeal would and gives them a really nice texture.

    and claudia: thanks for all the praise. and since yours was the first blog to inspire me, coming from you it means a lot!

  5. Biscuits are indeed sent directly from heaven!

    I just learned how to make them from scratch last Fall with my aunt standing at my side. I like them tiny and tall!

    And you're right...they always completely disappear!

    Great blog!

  6. Not a huge fan of biscuits, I find myself salivating for them as I read this. As a transplant new to the south, I suppose it is my duty to learn. Although, I'm not sure I can bring myself to use lard.

  7. anything with two pounds of butter is inspirational to me!!!
    loved meeting you today. i think theme meetings in the future would be perfect!