Posts Tagged ‘I want to be a southern belle’

I call myself a southern gal, yet I must confess my shortcomings. Not only do I lack that sweet-as-honey delta drawl, I also make sub-par biscuits. Yes sadly, my poor spicy sausage gravy just doesn’t have that buttery, flaky partner it deserves. In my opinion it’s wrong to use a canned or frozen biscuit if you live South of the Mason-Dixon line. (I must admit, can-opening pop is quite fun, but 5 seconds of elation doesn’t stand up to the remorse of consuming them.) So, here I am confessing (a bit bitterly) that I can’t make a perfect biscuit. We all know that the first step in change is admitting you have a problem…Now that I’ve done that, let’s learn what gives the southern biscuit its prestige.

The Biscuit Deconstructed

A. Flour–Yes, although Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose” the same cannot be said for flour. When talking Southern biscuits, there are two important words to remember concerning flour–White Lily. We all recognize that Northern and Southern accents are as different as night and day, but few people realize that the type of flour grown in each part of the country is just as different. The type of flour defined the type of carbalicious creations that could be made from them. Southern flour, with White Lily being the most referenced brand, has less gluten that Northern flour. Gluten is the protein in flour that gives a French loaf or bagel it’s crustiness. The idea of a crusty biscuit is enough to make the entire batillion of Southern Belles turn over in their graves in protest. So lesson numero uno, be a flour prude if you want light, fluffy biscuits.

B. Fat- Why of course fat makes a biscuit taste better, but it also gives the biscuits the characteristic flakey layers that are perfect for layering with fruit preserves or my personal favorite, butter (more fat please.) But as with flour, our ancestors relied on what they had, which wasn’t margarine or an omega-rich, heart-healthy oil. No, they used lard and lots of it! For those of you who have been brainwashed to tout this perfect fat, reconsider! Although vegetable-based shortening is an adequate substitute, it lacks the richness and depth of lard. Lesson numero dos, say yes to lard.

It’s all in the technique

With two biscuit commandments under my belt, it’s now time to master the technique. This is probably where the majority of my past problems occur. I tend to rush through baking. I just get so excited about the final product that I don’t follow recipes to the “T.” What can I say I’m a lover not a baker. But, after much past disappointment I’m turning in my lazy card and getting down to business.

  1. Cutting- It’s the only way the flour and lard can get cozy without activating those pesky gluten proteins. Becoming a master cutter is vital to produce a light biscuit. To begin, make sure the fat is cold. Rather than adding the fat in a large lump, small pieces work better. From here it’s necessary to your two god-given hands or a pastry cutter to combine the fat and flour until it resembles small crumbs.
  2. Next comes the addition of the liquid. This step also requires restraint, because over-mixing is a cardinal sin. First, make a hole in the center of your mixture and add all the milk at once. Use a fork to incorporate flour from the outer edge until a soft dough is formed. Whatever you do, don’t go haywire, less is always more. It won’t be a cohesive ball like yeast bread, so just use your gentle fingertips to combine the crumbly stragglers.
  3. Remove dough ball and knead 2-3 times. Dust the rolling surface with all-purpose flour, self-rising will leave the golden tops with a bitter aftertaste. Lightly pat or roll out biscuits to 1/2 inch thickness.
  4. Cut the biscuits into circles. Rather than twisting the biscuit cutter, press down and lift up.
  5. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Make sure the biscuits are touching. If they are touching they are less out to spread out. Because they don’t grow horizontally they rise more!

Well, I now have biscuit facts popping out of my ears and the flame of desire is lit. Tomorrow morning, I have a date with White Lily + lard + buttermilk and I’m quite sure it will be a long-term love affair. ¬†Wish me luck because if all goes right I’m going to be a real Southern belle after tomorrow, damn it! And as always..tips are appreciated!


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