United States of Bread (Running Press, 2014), by Adrienne Kane, contains 75 vintage American bread recipes — everything from yeast breads and quick breads, sweet rolls to bread puddings, and even what to do with dried bread. Included for the novice bread baker are helpful sidebars about fermentation, equipment and flours. For the more experienced baker and history enthusiast is intriguing information on classic American bread-making. The following excerpt from the chapter "Quickbreads" is a Southern biscuits recipe.
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Long before there were refrigerated cylinders of mediocre biscuit dough at every supermarket waiting to be popped from their container and tossed into the oven, there were fresh, homemade biscuits. In the South, each woman has her own special recipe, her own process, and her own lore surrounding homemade biscuits. Do you use vegetable shortening or butter; do you roll out the dough or pat it gently with your hands? What about baking powder—how many tablespoons; do you knead it or hardly touch the dough? With so much mythologizing, it’s no wonder that Americans have settled on the mediocrity of a convenience food just to avoid treading on an adamant baker’s toes!
While I appreciate a tale as much as the next woman, I also believe in de-mystifying processes, showing every person (Southern or otherwise) that getting a plate full of steaming homemade biscuits on the table is an achievable goal. So here are a few helpful hints to guide you in making this Southern Biscuit Recipe:
• Aerate your dry ingredients; you want feather-weight biscuits. By whisking the flour mixture, you are incorporating air, making it as light and lump-free as possible.
• This recipe uses both baking powder and baking soda as leaveners. This ensures an adequate rise. Because of the acidity of the buttermilk (the wet ingredient), the addition of baking soda is needed.
• It is important that all of the fats used are cold. You don’t want them to completely dissolve, melting as you are making the dough. Discrete layers of fat in the biscuit dough equals layers in the baked biscuit.
• I use equal amounts of cold butter and cold vegetable shortening in my biscuits. The butter adds flavor and tenderness, and the shortening adds lightness and flakiness.
• Don’t overwork the ingredients. The fats should be mixed in quickly. It is fine if there is some disparity in size when you are incorporating the fats into the flour. In fact, it is preferable. This will make supremely light and flaky homemade biscuits.
• Add the buttermilk into the dry ingredients all at once, and don’t overmix! You want the dough to just hold together.
• Don’t knead the dough. When you are making this Southern Biscuit Recipe, it is different from making yeast breads. Here, you don’t want gluten development, so kneading is unnecessary.
• Leave the rolling pin in the drawer. Use the heel of your hand to pat out the dough.
• Using a rolling pin compresses the ingredients, and you risk the dough sticking to the rolling pin.
• Folding the dough will create flaky layers in the baked biscuit.
• Bake the biscuits in a hot oven; 450 degrees Fahrenheit is best. This will make a biscuit that is golden on the outside while maintaining a moist interior.
• If a soft-sided biscuit is what you desire, bake the biscuits close together. If you desire crusty sides, bake 1 inch apart.
Southern Biscuits Recipe
• 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons (1-1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 3 tablespoons (1-1/4 ounces) vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 1 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a medium-size bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together to blend. The mixture should be light and free of lumps.
3. Add the butter and the shortening, and toss gently to coat. With your fingertips, work the fats into the flour mixture, rubbing the larger pieces between your fingers until they are pea-size.
4. Add the buttermilk all at once. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix the ingredients until they’re just blended and coming together to form a dough. Do not overmix.
5. Empty the dough onto a clean, well-floured work surface. Gently pat the dough out into a rectangle approximately 12 x 8 inches. Lightly flour the surface. Fold the dough into thirds, as if you are folding a letter. Scrape the folded dough from the work surface; if necessary, flour the surface again. Once more, pat the dough into a rectangle, flour lightly, and fold into thirds. Finally, pat the dough out to a thickness of approximately 1 inch.
6. With a well-floured 2- or 2-1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut biscuits out, and place them on a baking sheet. You may reshape biscuits from the scraps, but they will not rise as high as the first cutting.
7. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the biscuits are a light, golden brown. If you would like, biscuits can be brushed with an additional coating of melted butter. Serve immediately. Homemade biscuits are best eaten the same day that they are baked, but any leftovers can be eaten warm the next day. Simply reheat them in a low 300 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 5 minutes.
Reprinted with permission from United States of Bread © 2014 by Adrienne Kane, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Buy this book from our store: United States of Bread: Our Nation's Homebaking Heritage: From Sandwich Loaves to Sourdough.