Sunday, January 27, 2008

Help needed for a lazy Southern cook

Hey y'all - I'm jonesing for some biscuit. I was going on about it all day yesterday and I'm still wanting it today. Mmmmm....biscuit.

But my biscuits are SUB-PAR. I have to confess:

Hello, my name is the Vol Abroad...and....[sob]...I can't bake biscuits.

Now, I know I'm not alone in my poor biscuit making skills, but for the Southerner at home there are many ways to compensate. There are the fast food restaurants, there are those biscuits in a can (blechhhh - though flaking apart a Hungry Jack biscuit is oddly satisfying) and there are those frozen biscuits which are actually pretty good. And, of course, best of all there are networking skills - i.e. get to know somebody who can bake biscuits.

Sadly, none of these options are open to me.

Now, I know there are mixes that make kick-ass biscuits. For example, when a cousin of mine worked at a well-known fast food restaurant she stole some of the biscuit mix and baked it up for our Christmas eve dinner which that year was fried chicken and fixin's. Mmmmm - they were good.

You can buy Bisquick in England. But I don't like it. I mean, it's OK, but it's not what I'm going for. I want a biscuit that looks like this.

What dry mix do you suggest? I need suggestions this week, 'cause my dad and brother are arriving on Saturday. They live in South Georgia and East Tennessee, in case there are some regional specialties.


Chris in Oxford said...

I never learned to make a decent biscuit. Although I dated a girl for a while that made the best biscuits I've ever tasted. Alas, that wasn't quite enough to build a relationship on.

I know what you mean about those Hungry Jacks...

Good luck!

Sam said...

I understand your predicament, but I encourage you to give biscuits from scratch another shot. My mamma taught me to make biscuits before I went off to college and her recipe has never let me down and the additional labor involved is negligible. For a small pan, all you need is a cup of self-rising flour, a half-cup of buttermilk, 3 tablespoons of oil, bacon drippings, or melted butter. Stir it quickly with a spoon until it's just blended and you have a pretty stiff dough (you'll have to experiment with liquid quantities to optimize your dough. I usually add an additional tablespoon of milk, more or less). The dough should be tacky to the touch and dry enough that you need to use the spoon to scrape it out of the mixing bowl onto a lightly floured cloth (mom has used the same cotton pillowcase for the last 40 years or so). I don't think biscuit dough want much kneeding, just lift the corners of the cloth and gently flip and press the dough over on itself once or twice and pat it out into a round the same diameter as your pan (I use a 6 inch cast iron skillet). Cut out your biscuits (I use an old evaporated milk can). The key for me is making sure the pan is hot enough before you put the biscuits in. I leave mine in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Take your hot pan out of the oven and get to work right away. Coat the hot pan with bacon drippings or vegetable oil (no olive oil). Very carefully so you don't burn yourself, lay a biscuit in the pan to coat one side, then flip it. You should hear a satisfying sizzle as the dough hits the fat. Do the same to the rest of them. You want them packed in pretty good, they should all either be touching each other or the side of the pan. Bake at 350 until they're golden. You'll get crispy on the bottom, fluffy in the middle and golden on top. The only time mine go wrong is when the pan's not hot enough or I've used old flour. If I don't have buttermilk (which is usually never) I'll use sweet milk and it turns out just the same only without the tartness. If you spray the tops of the raw biscuits with one the commercial ersatz butter sprays instead of coating them in the pan fat and flipping them, you'll likely get that buttery fast-food taste when they're done. These are plain old rustic Alabama-style biscuits that may bear no relation to what you grew up with, but I think they're more than serviceable and I receive no complaints when they're put on the table with fried ham and sliced tomatoes. One last note: I've never made a decent biscuit in anything but cast iron. Cast iron, that's the ticket.

If you find a mix that works for you, I look forward to reading about it. Good luck.

Vol Abroad said...

Yeah, Sam - that works. Made them tonight. I still need to perfect my technique, but that was the first time I've ever made a half decent biscuit - and it didn't take a lot of extra work.

The floured cloth made it pretty easy and a lot less messy - I've never done that before.

Nor have I ever made them in a cast iron skillet. Made all the difference.

Sam said...

Awesome! I'm tickled they turned out and I'm proud of you for giving it a shot.