Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Absolute BEST Buttermilk Biscuits

It's always sweet when Life takes you by the hand, invites you on a quiet stroll 180 degrees away from stress and sits you down to a reminder of how perfectly simple a blessing "homemade" can be. Even better if she sits you down next to a generous serving of sweet butter, some strawberry preserves or local wildflower honey. If she's feeling you are particularly deserving, perhaps she's got some sausage gravy up her sleeve..... Eewwww wait. Lets backtrack.

Mama Magel was a strong contender in the kitchen when it came to baking. Her pecan pie, even after her death, can still bitch slap my version into a corner... whimpering, tail tucked and submissive. And I've passed her Poor Man's Pie recipe into so many NYC restaurant kitchens that she's probably achieved legendary status in the home kitchens of immigrant cooks when they return home.

Nevertheless, her frame of reference on a few items was as contained as any housewife of the 1960's. And in the 60's, biscuits came out of a tube, (slammed against the side of a counter), or mixed from a box named Bisquick. Mama Magel opted most often for the "Poppin' Fresh" option. I can only assume that before those refrigerated tubs were an option, my Ohio bred sisters and friends never knew biscuits outside of a literary reference here or there.

And so it is I offer the following recipe to my sisters and you all, dear readers. This was passed to me from my 2nd favorite catering chef (myself retaining the #1 position) soon after I realized I'd be spending more than a passing fancy with this world of food. He describes it as basically a ramped up version of the one from "Joy of Cooking". Seems he's not only correct, but also astute in his ramnping up instincts.

The key to this recipe is not processing the butter too much. If using a KitchenAid (as I do) don't let the butter get smaller than pea size. In reality, you can only err by processing the butter TOO MUCH.

Danny Boy's Biscuits

4 ounces unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup buttermilk for brushing

Cut butter into 1/2" cubes. Place in a bowl in freezer. Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. When butter is very cold, add butter to dry ingredients. Using the paddle attachment process butter and flour until butter is pea sized. (If making by hand, use your fingertips to process flour mix to the proper size.)
On low speed, add buttermilk until barely mixed. Wrap mix in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.
On a floured board, roll out biscuit dough until 1/2" thick. Fold in thirds (like puff pastry dough) and roll out two more times. (The idea being we are distributing the butter into layers to help the dough "puff" into layers as they bake.)
Return to the refrigerator to allow it to chill completely. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Punch out biscuits with a cutter of the desired size. Refrigerate again, or freeze before baking. Brush with buttermilk.
Bake 10 - 12 minutes

Cheddar biscuits
Reduce butter to 3 ounces
Add 3 oz cheddar to dough at the last minute of mixing. Brush with buttermilk and and top biscuits with additional 1 oz. shredded cheddar. Bake as described.

Add 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary (or chives, etc) with the butter. Proceed with baking as described.

Sweet ones, you will be surprised at how much better these biscuits get the less you process the butter. You are going to thrill at how something so simple is so soul fulfilling. Don't shy away from some sausage gravy if you are feeling especially Southern! And don't hesitate to layer some Cheddar Biscuits with Ham and Honey Mustard. Ready, Set, Go!

Big Love,
Big Mary

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