Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

I like biscuits, fresh, hot from the oven and dripping with butter. Now doesn’t that picture just make you want to go and bake up a batch.

For a long time I believed that I could not make biscuits. I made them. They were just terrible biscuits. What I have learned is that with science, patience and practice, I, too, could make biscuits. Part of my learning how to make biscuits was to understand the scientific role of each ingredient. Once I accomplished that I was able to make a better biscuit.

Let’s start with the ingredients. Once you understand the function of each ingredient, you will be better able to manipulate the recipe and make the type of biscuit you prefer.

Flour – to make good biscuit you need what is referred to as soft wheat flour. Soft wheat flour is used by Southerners to make biscuits and has less protein than other types of flour. Flour with less protein yields a biscuit that is more tender and flaky. White Lily (http://www.whitelily.com/) is a good brand, but there are also others. If you don’t have soft wheat flour, try using ½ all-purpose and ½ cake flour.

Fat – yes, some people consider it a bad word, but it does have a vital function in biscuits and other baked products. Fat prevents the development of too much protein (gluten). The development of too much gluten will toughen the biscuit. To make a tender and flaky biscuit, a solid fat is needed. Our grandmothers most likely used lard to make biscuits. Most cooks today use shortening or butter. Some recipes use 1/3 cup of fat to 2 cups of flour. I find that ½ cup of fat works best. It yields a more tender and flaky biscuit.

Leavening is what causes a biscuit to rise. Biscuits normally use baking powder and/or baking soda. Baking powder is composed of an acid and baking soda and reacts with a liquid. Baking soda is an alkaline and is used with an acid, like buttermilk.

Milk – usually buttermilk is the milk of choice for making biscuits. Buttermilk provides the acid for the baking soda and gives the biscuits a slightly tangy flavor.

Mixing Biscuits
Biscuits are made by what is referred to as the biscuit method. Dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) are combined. Fat is cut in with a pastry blender or two knives. This should be done as quickly as possible to prevent the fat from melting. Liquid is added to make a dough.

Biscuit dough is kneaded slightly, about 5 to 6 times. Overkneading the dough will cause the formation of too much gluten and make biscuits tough. Roll out dough to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter. Press straight down without twisting. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they touch. Reform dough and continue cutting. Biscuits from the reformed will not be as tender and flaky as the first.

Baking Biscuits
Preheat the oven to 400 to 425F for about 12 to 15 minutes. Some recipes state that the oven should be preheated to 500F. I tried that and got raw tops and burnt bottoms. For your dining pleasure, a biscuit recipe is included. Please give it a try and let me know how works. If you have any biscuit secrets, please add them to the comments section.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Yield: 10 – 12 biscuits.

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening or butter
½ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in shortening or butter with a pastry blender. Mixture should resemble a coarse meal or the size of peas. Add buttermilk; stir with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened.

3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly 3 or 4 times. Roll or pat dough to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

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