The Exquisite Comfort of Biscuits

The sky outside this Saturday morning is grey, threatening rain. Wood is stacked on the deck, we’re still in pajamas and have no place in particular to go as the storm closes in. It’s a biscuit kinda morning.

Buttermilk biscuits & sausage

I didn’t grow up in the South. But somewhere along the culinary line, I developed a great appreciations for things Southern — grits, barbecue, juleps and biscuits.

There are some foods that demonstrate a cook’s skill more than any others — the deftness of hand one demonstrates with a French emulsion, for example, or tangy, cloud-like sushi rice. They are often the simplest foods — the velvety clarity of a perfect chicken stock, for example, or the silky origami of a hand-folded tortelloni — but also sometimes the most difficult to do properly. They are usually executed best by grandmothers, who learned from their mothers and grandmothers and have been refining their touch for generations.

The buttermilk biscuit is one such food. Touch the dough too much, and you’ve got a paperweight. Mix it too much, and the glutens will defeat you. But exercise a light touch and infuse with a healthy dash of love, and you’ve got one of the world’s great bread products, and one of America’s proudest culinary achievements.

They should not be symmetrical, nor beautiful to look at — at least not in the classical sense. Their beauty is more of the earthy, ugly sort — like the malformed heirloom tomato, or the voluptuous redhead at the country fair. Noble in their toadliness, they should only be served with the very best butter, and a sprinkling of your flakiest sea salt or a drizzle of the best honey money can buy. Homemade blackberry jam is also a suitable accessory, as is a really good pork sausage patty. If you make more than you can eat, don’t worry — the next morning, warm them in the oven, then break them apart, slather with sausage gravy, top with an egg and you’ve got one of the greatest breakfasts on earth.

Here’s my biscuit recipe, the result of trial and error, the ineffable influence of Paul Prudhomme and information culled online, passed down from Southern ladies and the grandmothers of strangers. I have no idea if my own grandmothers made biscuits — they weren’t Southern, and they certainly weren’t ladies.

*   *   *

Buttermilk biscuits
serves 4-6

2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup very cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 420. Mix together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add butter cubes, cutting into the flour with two butter knives until the mixture has the consistency of lumpy cornmeal. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the buttermilk, mixing as little as possible, until you’ve got a fairly wet dough with dry patches.

Dust a large board and your hands liberally with flour, and turn the dough out onto the board. Touching as little as possible, pat the dough into a large rectangle about 1 inch thick. With a large knife, cut the dough into three rows lengthwise, and four rows across to make 12 biscuits. Place the biscuits closely together, almost touching but not quite, on a baking sheet.

Cook for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve.

Fresh biscuits out of the oven are best served for breakfast with cream butter, honey, grits and sausage patties. Or for dinner with fried chicken and mint juleps.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. medrat
    May 11, 2012 @ 17:45:32

    sounds so good! you ever make biscuits and gravy?


  2. Michelle
    May 12, 2012 @ 01:02:42

    Impressive! I guess we’re gonna have to make you an honorary Southerner. A Kentucky Colonel perhaps.


  3. Pal-O
    May 15, 2012 @ 01:07:35

    Kentucky, in my humble opinion, is not the South. Sean you would be more of a renaissance Southern gentleman sans any military appellations. And, as much as I would welcome you into the fold of the more Southerly parts of Florida, I do believe you would be more suited for the civility, gentility and raucus life in the Crescent City–New Orleans–where food, music, drink and beautiful women abound.


  4. Leo
    May 15, 2012 @ 16:19:29

    I love the whimsy to this piece of writing Mr Colgin. No doubt it was inspired by your scrumptious biscuits!


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