I got to pat dough.
I got to play with yeast (cake and granulated).
I got to use real butter, margarine, and trans fat-free buttery spreads.
One time and one time only did we use Crisco. It was butter flavored and it could have been sawdust-flavored for all we cared. It was gross. Yuck.
I have a hard time referring to cookies as digestive biscuits because I've only known biscuits to be ethereal bundles of flaky, fluffy, luxurious joy.
Every night Grandma made dinner with a meat, two vegetables, and a bread. 90% of the time it was biscuits. It was a special treat to get Jiffy cornbread, topped with butter, studded with corn and diced jalapenos, or swirled with fresh herbs. But the biscuit ... Oh! The biscuit. High upon its pedestal, to this day it stands high above the rest.
When it comes to baking, it's an exact science. That's why many cooks say they don't or can't bake. Honestly, it takes skill, dedication, and pure concentration to measure, weigh, and calculate ingredients. When you cook, you can literally throw anything in a pan, turn on the heat, stir it, and it's done. It's easy to master the science of coagulating and denaturing of proteins or the breaking down of cellulose.
The Chop Shop of Biscuit Making
Flour: Unbleached all-purpose flour is the trademark of American baked goods.
Whole-wheat flour will make us all heart healthy, but it will also make your biscuits heavy and dense. I'd rather be light and fluffy. Sorry. LOL. The bran in the whole wheat flour cuts the gluten strands and makes it short (the premise behind shortbreads and shortcakes), causing the bread to be dense.
The best combination of flour for biscuits is one part all-purpose and one part cake flour. Cake flour is soft and has a lower gluten protein percentage. It clumps in your hand when you squeeze it. Swans Down is my favorite. To make your own: Add 2 Tbsp cornstarch to 1 cup all-purpose flour. It's a reasonable facsimile, but only do it if you must must must.
Self-rising flour is one of the most wonderful inventions ever. In any self-respecting Southern woman's cabinet, there are two bags of flour: regular all-purpose and self-rising all-purpose. You never know when you'll need one or the other. Preferred brands include: Gold Medal, Martha White, and White Lily.
I'm going to be honest, my grandma really didn't like having huge bags of flour with little white girls on it, so we usually had Gold Medal.
Self-rising flour sometimes tastes salty, so that's when adding your own baking powder and baking soda comes into play.
Leavening: This is what separates the women from the girls. It's what makes the biscuits rise and get fluffy. Whichever leavening agent you use, it works like this: it reacts with the moisture, heat and acidity in the dough to produce carbon dioxide--which then becomes trapped as bubbles within the dough. Yeast, buttermilk, sour cream, baking soda, and baking powder all all acceptable agents. Using them correctly is key.
If using self-rising flour, skip this step. The baking soda and powder are already included.
Yeast is a beast. It's living, real, and unkind in foreign lands. Sugar feeds it. Salt kills it. Potato starch nourishes it. Heat inhibits it. One wrong move, and it's over. Yeast is why I don't bake bread. It makes me want to cry. I like kids, but I don't want to babysit any yeast.
Buttermilk is simply soured milk full of cultured bacteria. It gives biscuits a slight tang in taste. To make your own, add 2 Tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Let sit for 10 minutes e voila, you have buttermilk.
For baking powder, I prefer Clabber Girl. There is a lip on the inside that you can scrape your measuring spoon against to level your powder. Ingenious!Fat: Cutting the fat means something entirely different when it comes to biscuits. As we all know, fat equals flavor. My preferred fat is ice cold cubes of salted butter. Shortening (Crisco), bacon fat, margarine all can be used. Cooks will swear by shortening, but I don't like to use it because it changes the mouthfeel of the biscuits to something more akin to plastic than biscuit. I've used oil in a pinch, but butter makes it better. For sure.
The less the dough is worked, the more tender the biscuits will be. Knead the dough just until it comes together in a ball. Gently rework the scraps and use those, too. It's hard times right now--waste not, want not.
Placing the biscuits close together helps them rise and stay fluffy. Placing them apart makes them crustier.
To cut biscuits, a biscuit cutter isn't needed. If you have one, that's great, but the floured rim of a drinking glass, shot glass, or the top of a Mason jar will do. Use a knife if you want square or diamond shaped biscuits.
THIS is why I'm glad to be Southern. A fluffy, buttery biscuit with a fried egg, bacon, and pepper jack cheese. Thank you, Jesus, for small miracles.
Buttermilk Biscuits Yield 12 to 16 biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup buttermilk
Basic Biscuits Yield 12 to 16 biscuits
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup milk
(Follow instructions for either recipe)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Sift dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut butter with your fingers, fork, or pastry cutter until the mixture looks like course crumbs. Pour in the milk and stir it with a fork until the ingredients are moistened. Lightly flour the counter or another work surface and turn out the dough. Pat into a circle between 1/2 and 3/4 inches thick. Cut biscuits into desired shapes. Rework scraps and cut them into shapes as well. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Sweet Potato Biscuits Yield 10 to 12 biscuits
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water (no more than 118 degrees F) and set aside to proof. Warm milk, butter, and sugar in a pan or bowl in the microwave just until butter has melted. Pour liquid into bowl with sweet potatoes, salt, 1/4 cup of the flour, and the proofed yeast. Cover for 30 minutes until foamy.
Stir in remaining flour, then knead dough until smooth and elastic. Cover again and let rise until doubled in size, nearly 45 minutes to an hour.
Turn out dough, pat into a circle, cut biscuits into desired shapes. Cover, let rise until doubled in size, another 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake biscuits 20 minutes.