Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Biscuit Update II

  While purchasing sugar for our bees at Cash and Carry I found that they do sell cake flour in larger containers.  By larger containers I mean 50 pound bags.  I went ahead and bought a bag even though it was a lot more than I needed.  I took it home and combined ten pounds of the cake flour with 10 pounds of all purpose flour and put it in a five gallon bucket labeled as "biscuit flour". I was finally ready to take my biscuits to the next level.

   This morning I made biscuits.  I used 2 1/4 cup of my new biscuit flour, 1 cup of buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon of baking soda.  I was happy with the results in that I think they are the best I have made so far.  I took three of them to the shop with me so I could use random customers as biscuit guinea pigs.  When I got to the bee store, Quentin was already there along with Daniel Sullivan and his girlfriend Tiffany. It was perfect. Three biscuits, three biscuit guinea pigs.  I imposed on our friendship and made each of them eat a biscuit. They all agreed that they were very good biscuits. I asked Daniel if they merited an A to which he responded "A plus."  They turned out very well, but I don't feel I have reached the end of my quest for the perfect biscuit.  I still have other variables I want to test besides the flour.  However, I am pretty happy with the results thus far.

   If any of my blog followers are inclined to jump on the biscuit bandwagon I would be happy to share some of my surplus supply of cake flour.  All you have to do is add it to an equal amount of all purpose flour to have the makings of some pretty fantastic biscuits.  I am assuming that my daughter, Lia, currently living in Maryland, can probably find some good low protein flour in her local grocery stores.  Maryland is technically part of the south so the stores may carry Martha White or White Lily flour, both good low protein southern brands. Those of us living in the Pacific Northwest are somewhat deprived when it comes to the availability of good biscuit flour. Fortunately there are a lot of benefits to living here that more than compensate for the lack of good biscuit flour.

    I spent some time discussing biscuits with my mother this evening.  She learned how to make biscuits from her grandmother, (Lillie Etta Heiskill) while she lived with her grandparents in Baxter County Arkansas.  She didn't recall what brand of flour her grandmother used, only that they bought flour in 50 pound cloth bags.  Both the flour and sugar sacks were made of cotton cloth that was printed with colorful patterns suitable for making into dresses.   They stored their flour in a large cardboard drum and they used a large wooden bowl as a lid. Whenever they made biscuits, they simply filled the bowl with flour, made a hole in the flour with their fist, added buttermilk, liquid bacon grease, baking soda, and salt, stirred it until the mixture was the right consistency to set out on a board and cut out the biscuits.  Making biscuits became mom's job because her grandmother thought mom made fluffier biscuits than she did. This was because mom, being a child, had smaller and weaker hands and thus tended to work the dough less. The less the dough is worked, the fluffier the biscuits. They baked the biscuits in a pan where the biscuits were touching each other. This made them rise better and contributed to fluffier biscuits.

    They usually had buttermilk so that was their first choice for milk to use to make biscuits. They called them soda biscuits. When they didn't have buttermilk they used baking powder instead of baking soda and called them baking powder biscuits. Mom said that her aunt Eller made the very best soda biscuits. Aunt Eller was married to Don Haney, who played the fiddle and did five years in prison for running a moonshine still. They had biscuits every day at breakfast and dinner and cornbread for supper.  There were usually three or four left over biscuits at each meal. They always fed the leftover biscuits to their dog, Checker.  They never bought dog food.

   Mom had a few suggestions for me to try in my continuing quest for the perfect biscuit.  The first was to try making biscuits without using a formal recipe.  That would constitute a considerable leap of faith for me as I'm one of those people who really like to measure stuff carefully.  When she made biscuits, she used approximately 4 cups of flour but she never measured the flour. Everything hinged on how much milk she used which she didn't measure either.  She poured the milk into the hole in the flour and used liquid bacon grease so she didn't need to cut in the oil. The quantity of oil used is apparently less critical to the biscuits turning out well. Less oil will tend to make fluffier biscuits while more oil makes crisper biscuits. Her grandma kept salt in a canister of some sort so she simply reached in a grabbed some salt with her hand. That only leaves the baking soda. According to the recipes I have read, four cups of flour would require about two teaspoons of baking soda. However, a little extra baking soda wouldn't have any great impact on the taste of the biscuits and might make them even fluffier. Too little baking soda would result in less fluffy biscuits.

    Mom said that she never rolled the biscuit dough.  She simply mixed in enough flour until the consistency of the dough seemed right, then dumped it out onto a floured board and patted it down to the right thickness. The goal was to have very fluffy biscuits and the more the dough was worked, the less fluffy the biscuit. She cut out the biscuits using a floured glass and put them into a pan where the biscuits were all touching each other. She didn't know how hot the oven was as they baked their biscuits in a wood cook stove with no temperature gauge.  Her grandma simply stuck her hand into the oven to feel if it was hot enough.

   Mom's second suggestion was to try making biscuits with liquid butter to eliminate the cutting in of the cold butter.  According to my book, "Southern Biscuit Basics", using cold butter or lard results in a flakey biscuit so using melted butter would be trading flakey for fluffy. Using more butter contributes to flavor. Using less butter contributes to fluffy. I can see that I still have considerable biscuit trials ahead of me as I continue my quest for the perfect biscuit. Everyone is forewarned that they can expect to take their turn as biscuit guinea pigs when they come to visit.


  1. I want your perfect recipe. I made tried to replicate the biscuits you made us and failed miserably. :( I can already see a couple of reasons why from your post!

  2. Its not so much a matter of perfect recipe as it is perfect ingredients. If you use the right kind of flour great biscuits are pretty easy. If you use the wrong kind of flour (all-purpose) you are doomed to make mediocre biscuits. I really recommend you get this book, Southern Biscuit Basics. It was a $2.99 download onto my iPhone and it includes handy videos that demonstrate the various techniques discussed in the book.