Wednesday, March 04, 2009

northern biscuits

When my daughter Isobel and her SO, Jesse, were here last summer and nosing around for breakfast, they stuck those shapely protuberances up when I told them there were biscuits left over from the night before. They were not intrigued. But once those biscuits were warmed and in front of them Jesse said, “Ummm. Real biscuits!”

just plain biscuits

I had forgotten that where they live in the south biscuits are no treat. Though they’re offered for every breakfast-out they are lackluster excuses for the real thing. Imagine! One thinks of the south as the ancestral home of exquisite biscuits. And it is, actually! It’s just that they’ve become too familiar, and the technique has deteriorated with a let-them-eat-cake mentality.

Here, they’re special, occasional, treats. Chicken and Biscuits, for instance, which I can count on to cheer Leo up. Or last night’s biscuits split and griddled, eaten with butter and jam or maple syrup for breakfast, or stuffed with good ham and warmed for appetizers or a small supper that evening. Try them as the foundation of that wonderful bacon sandwich I talked about earlier.

biscuit bites

Of all the biscuits recipes available, I love two of James Beard’s offerings. Mostly, when I have enough heavy cream – usually on Tuesdays when I get my quart of fresh, thick, unpasteurized Jersey cream – I make his cream biscuits, which I found in the elegant little autobiography, Delights & Prejudices. Otherwise, I’ll go the buttermilk route, a recipe from his American Cookery (which is indispensable in the way that Joy of Cooking is indispensable).

Good flour – I use King Arthur’s – and good butter – I use an Amish butter that comes in 3 pound rolls – and, especially, good, and not old, baking powder or soda are essential. If your biscuits don’t rise well, toss the baking soda or powder and invest in some fresh! Better yet, pick up a can whenever you think of it; and discard the old one if you can’t remember when it was opened. It would probably be a good idea to write the date on the can when you open it. If it’s three months old or so, toss it.

Let’s Wonderful Sweet Cream Biscuits
(From James Beard’s Delights & Prejudices. Let was the Beards’ beloved Chinese cook;
and these are sumptuous, soft, airy little things)

Sift 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt with 3 teaspoons baking powder. Fold in heavy cream until it makes a soft sough that can be easily handled (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups) . Turn the dough out on a floured board and pat to about ¾ inch thickness. Cut it in rounds or squares, dip them in melted butter, and arrange them in a buttered baking sheet or pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Serve the biscuits hot.

My idiosyncratic way: Heat a heavy baking pan with the oven. I measure by weight, using 9 ounces of flour, no sugar, and 1 teaspoon of sea salt with 1 tablespoon baking powder. Fold the cream in as directed. I don’t dip into melted butter, but put them on the sizzling hot baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes.

Buttermilk Biscuits
(From James Beard’s American Cookery. These have more substance than the cream biscuits, and a delightful buttermilk taste. I once made them with real buttermilk – the whey left over from the making of butter – and they were outstanding. They are almost as good with a good commercial cultured buttermilk, and they last longer, because the raw butter whey gave these biscuits quite a er, ah, ‘nose’ the day after.)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use more)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
Combine all the dry ingredients and sift into a mixing bowl. (I never sift, just whisk).
Add the butter and blend in well.
Stir in the buttermilk and blend until the dough holes together.
Turn out on a floured board and flour the top of the dough lightly.
Knead about 3 minutes and then pat or roll out in a circle about ½ inch thick. cut the biscuits any size you like, dip them into melted butter (I don’t), and arrange on a baking sheet (yes, I use the preheated pan), and bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

I served these last night with poached chicken in gravy with collard greens. More about that later.

chicken and biscuits

This morning, one of my favorite food bloggers, Lucy Vanel, wrote about an intriguing thing – fast puff pastry. Hmm. Made much like biscuits. Give it a look here.


Alison said...

I LOVE Beards cream biscuits...we have them often, sprinkled with sugar and topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. In fact, I think I will go make some right now. :) Yum! BTW, your blog is lovely....

Penny said...

Your biscuits look wonderful. I am ditching my baking powder and soda now and starting over with fresh just to make these. Thanks!

sharon parquette nimtz said...

Thank you for your comments, Mesdames, and of course you two need to know each other. Alison of a girl a market a meal dot blogspot dot com, meet Penny of Lake Lure Kitchen dot blogspot etc. Both wonderful blogs about victuals. I love them both!