Biscuits rise in esteem

Los Angeles TimesMay 15, 2013 

These biscuits are served with gravy and a poached egg.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

  • BUILDING A BETTER BISCUIT

    It's an adage passed down by expert Nathalie Dupree in her cookbook "Southern Biscuits": "No two cooks make the same biscuit." But there are a few tips everyone can follow for better biscuits:

    • Make sure all of the ingredients, including the flour and baking powder, are cold.

    • Do not overwork the dough: Mix just until the liquid is incorporated, and knead just until the dough comes together.

    • Roll the dough so that it's about an inch thick, and not much less, for high biscuits.

    • Cut the biscuits out without twisting the cutter to prevent the sides from getting pinched.

    • Eat biscuits as soon as possible; their lifespan is short.

At its most basic, a biscuit is flour, water and leavening, and anything else - liquids such as buttermilk or cream and fats such as butter, lard or shortening - are additions (though those additions have come to be expected).

Distinctly American, biscuits are closely associated with the South because of the history of the region's flour. Southern flours were made from the soft winter wheat that grew well in the warmer climate of the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. And flour from soft wheat, such as the highly coveted White Lily, has less protein, better suited to making quick breads (including biscuits) than flour made with harder spring wheat.

LARD BISCUITS AND SAUSAGE GRAVY

1 hour, 10 minutes; serves 4 to 6

LARD BISCUITS

5 1/2 cups (23.4 ounces) flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

12 ounces cold lard (Sqirl uses lard rendered from Mangalitsa pigs)

1 1/2 cups buttermilk, plus extra for egg wash

2 eggs, divided

Cracked pepper and fleur de sel

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in the lard until it is reduced to pea-sized pieces. Stir in the buttermilk and 1 egg just to form a dough.

3. Remove the dough to a well-floured surface, and pat to a thickness of about 1 inch. Cut out biscuits using a 2-inch round cutter and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing the biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. The recipe makes about 1 dozen biscuits. Beat the remaining egg with a few tablespoons of buttermilk to form the egg wash. Brush the biscuits with the egg wash, and sprinkle over the cracked pepper and fleur de sel.

4. Bake the biscuits until puffed and golden, 12 to 17 minutes, rotating the tray halfway for even baking.

SAUSAGE GRAVY

1 pound breakfast or standard pork sausage, crumbled

1 shallot, small dice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch of chile flake

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 cup flour

3 cups warm milk

Salt, to taste

1. In a dry skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the sausage is golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Add the shallot, garlic, black pepper, chile and thyme. Cook until the shallot is translucent and the herbs are aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Sprinkle the flour over and briefly cook, stirring to mix well, about 2 minutes. Slowly drizzle over the warm milk, whisking to mix well so lumps don't form; the milk will begin to thicken quickly. Bring the mixture down to a simmer and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Taste and season as desired with salt before serving.

Nutrition per serving (based on 6): calories: 1,211; protein: 27 grams; carbohydrates: 106 grams; fiber: 3 grams; fat: 74 grams; saturated fat: 29 grams; cholesterol: 152 mg; sugar: 14 grams; sodium: 1,728 mg

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS AND BURNT ORANGE HONEY BUTTER

1 hour, 20 minutes; makes about 1 dozen biscuits

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

4 cups (17 ounces) flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter

2 cups buttermilk

Cream or melted butter, for brushing

Natural sugar, for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cube or grate the cold butter on top of the dry ingredients, and then cut it in using a pastry cutter or fork. Stir in the buttermilk, and gently work the mixture until combined to form the dough.

3. On a floured surface, flatten and fold the dough onto itself three times. Flatten the dough out to a thickness of approximately one-half inch. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut the dough and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with cream or melted butter, and sprinkle a pinch of natural sugar over each.

4. Bake the biscuits until puffed and golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the tray halfway for even baking and coloring. Serve the biscuits warm.

BURNT ORANGE HONEY BUTTER

1 orange, peeled and halved

1 cup orange juice

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1/4 cup lavender honey

1. Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Place the orange halves, cut-side down, in the pan and cook, turning once, until they have developed a deep caramelized color, about 10 minutes. Add the juice, stirring to lift any flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the juice is reduced to a syrup, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and press the juice and orange halves through a fine mesh strainer, then cool the syrup to room temperature.

2. Place the butter in a food processor and, with the motor running, drizzle in the honey and syrup to combine (the butter, honey and syrup can also be whisked together in a large bowl). Serve alongside the warm biscuits. This makes about 1 3/4 cups butter.

Nutrition per serving (based on 12): calories: 486; protein: 6 grams; carbohydrates: 46 grams; fiber: 1 gram; fat: 32 grams; saturated fat: 20 grams; cholesterol: 83 mg; sugar: 14 grams; sodium: 511 mg

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