Although as a vegetarian it is hard for me to be a true aficiando of Southern cooking, there are some things I can totally get behind, including almost all of the desserts, sweet tea, pimiento cheese, and one of my favorite breakfast dishes, buttermilk biscuits and gravy.
I have been looking for a new buttermilk biscuit recipe because although I have several that are of the drop biscuit variety, I wanted one that is rolled and cut out, with nice flaky layers. I think these kind go better with gravy for some reason.
So I started with two recipes, one from Brown-Eyed Baker based on a Baking Illustrated recipe, and one from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. I kind of combined the two by using the ingredients from the first but incorporating several techniques from the later, and even one of my own.
Instead of cutting in the butter, Peter Reinhart suggests grating very cold butter to get the right size flakes, and I happen to keep my butter in the freezer. I made these biscuits twice over the weekend (we will get to why in a minute) and the first time I grated the butter by hand, and then used a pastry blender to cut in the large chunks that I couldn’t grate. The second time I used a food processor’s grater attachment to grate the butter into the flour. The food processor method is the way to go if you are going to do this, because the hand grating method just took too long. The butter was beginning to melt by the end, and the whole point of this is to keep the butter and the dough as cold as possible.
So if you are going to grate the butter instead of cutting it in, go with the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor or don’t want to use it, you can go the traditional route by cubing the butter and working it in with two knives or a pastry blender.
Then you mix the flour and the butter flakes with a pastry fork.
You add the buttermilk and mix that in, too.
Next you want to gather the dough together into a rectangle, but both times I made it, the dough was too dry and crumbly to stay together. I wonder if it needs just a little more buttermilk in the dough. Instead of going that route, however, I used the same solution that I would use with a pie dough that was too dry and crumbly: a spray bottle filled with water.
You can see the spray bottle technique at work in this King Arthur Flour video. You don’t want to have too much liquid in your pie dough, so in order to get just the right amount to make it come together, you spray the dry parts of the dough. Although I think it is more important to not have too much liquid in pie dough than in biscuits, the technique seemed to work fine with the biscuits, too. After spraying them, I folded the dry parts into the dough letter-style, which was another PR recommendation.
Because I have no skills at determining size, I rolled out the dough much thinner than the recommended 3/4 of an inch, and because I like bigger biscuits, I cut them out with a 2-1/2 inch butter instead of the two inch. The resulting biscuits were not very tall.
I put the pan in the refrigerator for 20 minutes while I preheated the oven. They needed the full 12 minutes to bake.
So the next day, I wanted to try again to get taller biscuits. I rolled out the dough much thicker, but because I still wanted 2-1/2 inch biscuits instead of 2 inch biscuits, now I only had enough dough for 9 biscuits.
The one on the bottom right was just the leftover scraps rolled together.
These were much taller, but both batches tasted delicious. I think I might want to increase the dough in the future so I can get more, taller, and bigger biscuits.
While the first batch was baking, I made a Pepper Cream Gravy to go along with the biscuits. This recipe started life as a Cooking Light recipe, but I managed to un-lighten it as much as possible. Sausage gravy is, I think, the traditional accompaniment, but obviously that wasn’t going to work.
Then I remembered an impulse purchase I had made not long ago.
The theory behind Bacon Salt (which is according to its website “low sodium, zero calorie, zero fat, vegetarian and kosher”) is that you can add it to anything to give a bacon-y flavor. It looks like it is mostly smoked paprika and artificial flavoring, like the soy Bac’n Bits use. I had forgotten to add it directly to the gravy, so I sprinkled some on top.
The Bacon Salt was actually pretty good. It smelled like nothing so much as the flavoring on barbecue flavored potato chips, and it did add a nice smoky flavor. Next time I’d like to try actually putting it in the gravy while making it. If you can’t find Bacon Salt, you could probably use smoked paprika to achieve a similar effect.
adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker and Peter Reinhart
Yield: 9 (2-1/2 inch) taller biscuits (or 12 shorter ones)
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
¾ cup cold buttermilk
1. Place the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Pour some of the flour mixture into the workbowl of a food processor to discourage sticking. Add the grater attachment and grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients.
2. Pour the flour and butter back into the bowl. Stir in the buttermilk with a rubber spatula or fork until the mixture holds together in clumps.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and pat it into a circle. If the dough does not hold together, spray the dry areas with a spray bottle filled with water and fold the dough over itself until the dough comes together. Be careful not to overmix. Pat or roll the dough into a ¾-inch-thick circle. Cut out the dough rounds with a biscuit cutter. Push together the remaining pieces of dough, pat into a ¾-inch-thick, and cut out several more dough rounds. Discard the remaining dough or shape it into a rough ugly duckling biscuit. Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and put them in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.
4. In the meantime, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
5. Put the biscuits in the oven and bake until the biscuit tops are light brown, about 12 minutes. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter or stick margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bacon Salt or smoked paprika, to taste
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula. Gradually add 1 cup milk, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; stir with a whisk. Bring to a boil; stir constantly, alternating the whisk with the spatula to ensure smoothness and prevent scorching. Reduce heat, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve gravy with biscuits.