Flaky Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

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After those Chicken and Dumplings I made the other night, I’ve been caught up in the spirit of the American South  In fact, I’ve even been walking around the house tawkin’ in a suthern drawl. So, I was fixin’ to make something else from the deep south like fry up some okra or make a casserole or maybe sum’ sweet tea. I haven’t made biscuits in a month of Sundays so I figured I’d satisfy my hankerin’ for buttery, flaky biscuits. I may only be a bumpkin when it comes to Southern cuisine but, I reckon, after countless attempts over the past few years, I’ve got this recipe down pat.

If you haven’t mastered the art of making a perfectly flaky and fluffy biscuit, your attempts have likely yielded biscuits that are sitting on the fine divided line between a cracker and a scone. A good biscuit should have a significant crumb and be as tender as it is buttery. If you tend to produce biscuits that would get better use out of them as hockey pucks or doorstops, this recipe will go a long way in rectifying your past failed attempts.  I’ve found that the key to the flaky biscuit is the combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour. Most recipes call for AP flour which will produce a biscuit with a heavier, denser crumb. The cake flour, on the other hand, will produce a tighter and finer crumb. Both of these are desirable qualities in a biscuit, and together they produce a biscuit with the right amount of both.

If you have a grasp of the science of baking like I do, you’re steps ahead of the crowd. Producing a tender biscuit requires you to handle the dough as little as possible so as not to overstimulate the gluten. I find that grating the butter on a cheese grater, allows you to quickly combine the butter with the flour without over-handling it. Some recipes call for you to run the flour and butter in a food processor, but apparently some Southern people consider that a cardinal sin, opting instead to use two forks or two knives or a whatchamadoodle (i.e. a ‘pastry blender’ if you want to get complicated with the terminology;). Other recipes call for eggs, but for fear that I’ll have to say two Hail Mary’s to atone for my indiscretion of using eggs in biscuits, I always keep eggs out of the biscuit mix.

Biscuit-making requires you to roll up your sleeves and really get into the process so a rolling pin has no place in this process. The ingredients are few, but the technique is key in this recipe. The biscuits bake up beautifully and your entire home will begin to fill with the delicious aroma of freshly baked biscuits. When they come out of the oven they are hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch, so if you want them to be extra delicious, that’s the time to slather them with some more butter. And, Oooh, Lord have mercy, these are awfully deeeeeeelicious!  Yes ma’am, they are granny-slappin’ good! And if you want biscuits that are gussied up, you can slice them and add homemade marmalade and you’re all set. I didn’t get a lick of work done after making these. I chose a good book, made a warm cup of tea to enjoy with my biscuit and curled up on the couch, as snug as a bug in a rug for the rest of the afternoon.

So, I figure my husband is tiring of my southern colloqualisms or “southern’isms”, and he’s afraid that I’ll want to go to a tractor pull or go four wheeling next, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead and veer away from Southern recipes after this one.

But go ahead and throw your hat in the ring – challenge yourself to forego the boxed Bisquick biscuits and try your hand at making the finest biscuits this side of the border. If I had my druthers, I’d be eating these all day long. Hope y’all enjoy these!

And don’t forget to scroll down to read my secrets to creating a perfectly flaky biscuit!

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Chicken and Dumplings

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The interminable wait on the other line of a customer service call can cause one to do many curious things. Some walk around their house discovering new places that need to be dusted, some engage in nail beautification and other forms of personal self-grooming, some scold their children assuming (incorrectly) that no one on the other line can hear them. To overcome the frustration of being in ‘phone jail’ I tend to flip through recipe books and research new food trends. While waiting on the phone today, for what felt like hours, I flipped through a Saveur magazine and had my eye on a few recipes that called for Brie and Camembert cheeses that I’m now itching to audition. But, after some thought, I decided instead to deviate completely from that path, heading out from the ile de France and ending up somewhere in the American South. 

There’s something about Southern cuisine that appeals to me: it completely strips away any artifice. It’s void of pretentiousness and something about that roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dig-in kind of food makes Southern recipes completely worthy of adulation. They say, “Hearty fare breeds hearty people; haute cuisine breeds degenerates” and the cuisine of the American South is a true testament of just that. 

My brother-in-law, Amir, has had a yen for chicken and dumplings for the last few weeks and, well, I thought I’d torture him with this recipe while he’s at work and hours away from making this himself. This dish is creamy and hearty with delicious shredded chicken and fluffy little dumplings (swoon). Chicken and dumplings is a recipe that needs little tinkering but this dish is rooted in so many different family traditions, that every recipe ends up with slight variations and ingredient deviations. Visually, the dish will look the same from home to home, and the base is almost always the same, but every recipe that’s been handed down through the generations may be slightly varied. Cooking improvisationally is not an aberration for southern recipes but there are a few staple ingredients and methods that need to be followed to give this southern recipe authentication. 

Some recipes call for cream over milk, some call for lard rather than butter, others use all-flour dumplings instead of cornmeal dumplings, some have dumplings that contain eggs and are rolled out (which some purists will argue are ‘egg noodles’ rather than dumplings) and others use boneless chicken rather than bone-in chicken. The people “down south” are ever-protective of the tradition of their recipes, and I realize that I may be inciting a riot with this comment, but there are good things to be said about every different recipe for chicken and dumplings. I’ve tried over a dozen different recipes over the years, all with slight variations and this recipe is a culmination of the best of all the recipes I’ve tried. I’ve even added my own small (very small) improvements. The ingredients are pretty well the same but I’ve modified the technique to maximize the flavour base. Some Southerners will argue that only people of the South can truly master this recipe, but it seems that a decent chicken and dumplings can, in fact, be made north of the Mason-Dixie line 😉

So, instead of bottom-feeding out of the fridge tonight, try this Southern favourite. It’s a sure favourite in my home and it may become a family favourite in yours too. 

DSC_0110I used leeks in this recipe which lend a very mild onion-like flavour to the dish, but you can substitute it with celery and create a classic mire poix (carrots, onions and celery) for the base of this dish. Some recipes omit the carrots and peas altogether but I think the recipe needs the pop of colour from both to keep it from looking bland and all beige. The garlic is something that’s not completely traditional but I think it’s completely essential. It gives the dish a wonderful fragrance and depth. 

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