Friday, July 13, 2012

Buttermilk Biscuit Bonanza

Dear Lauren,

We've lived in Georgia 5 years now. Did you realize it? This is the longest we've lived anywhere since we started moving around the country for Dad's job. Do you feel like a Georgia Peach? 

For about the last year I've felt like it was IMPERATIVE I learn to make a GREAT biscuit. And I mean great. I live in the south and all southern women know how to make a biscuit, right? So I've made quite a few biscuit recipes and I felt there were quite a few that fell short. Quite a few, but not all.

Today was Buttermilk Biscuit Bonanza. I'm taking my top four buttermilk biscuit recipes, making them all at the same time and having a taste test. Who are my tasters?


Dad, of course.

Oh, and I posted something about this in my cooking group and Julie saw it and said she wanted in. So she and Xavier came too!

All the recipes follow. They all have their merits. I'll let you know what my testers reported. Just be patient.

Here are the contenders:
Lauri Polunsky's Biscuits
Alton Brown's Biscuits
Homesick Texan's Biscuits
Thomas Keller's Biscuits

Has anyone ever made 4 biscuit recipes at one time? I haven't and it's getting me a little nervous. I decided to be prepared. I lined up the recipes.You'd have to give TK the thumbs up for 1) best photo and 2) heaviest book. I really do wish his book was not so heavy. I like to read cookbooks before I got to sleep. This book is impossible to manage in that position. You have to lay it on the counter or a table and just leave it open. 

So I made all the biscuits and Dad made all the fixins. To make things easy, I measured and combined the dry ingredients the night before and then ziploc'ed and labeled them. 

Even though Julie and I both love to take pictures, do you know I took none and Julie took 1? It's criminal! But we had a lot to do and I gave everyone official judging score sheets so we were busy! Luckily, I have photos of all of the biscuits from making each of the recipes over the last several months.

I thought about giving you a play by play of each individual scoring sheet. But for 4 of us the results were anonymous! Unbelievable! Here are the results:
1st - Thomas Keller

2nd - Lauri Polunsky
3rd - Homesick Texan
4th - Alton Brown

Dad had different results:
1st - Lauri Polunsky
2nd - Homesick Texan
3rd - Thomas Keller
4th - Alton Brown

We all agreed that Homesick Texan had the prettiest biscuits. And that Alton Brown had the lightest biscuits. Lauri's were ridiculously easy! TK's were fiddly. I love that word. I never heard it before my friend Jill used it one day. Fiddly - requiring an annoying amount of close attention. Maybe that's too strong a word to use for the recipe. But compared to Lauri's? Fiddly. Also, one of the judging criteria was, did the biscuit rise 2-3 times that of the unbaked biscuit. TK's did not. It didn't matter! The taste was incredible!

Homesick Texan Biscuit. You get to beat the dough with a rolling pin. It's a great stress reliever.

Homesick Texan Biscuits

We gave this cookbook to Dad for Father's Day 2012, remember? I love the part about beating the dough with the rolling pin for 2 minutes. It's a workout! Ha! It's actually really fun and if there's anyone around when you're beating them, they look at you funny and then nod approvingly like you're a biscuit master.

 Two cups of flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of sugar (can add more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 stick of butter, cold (8 tablespoons)
3/4 cup of buttermilk, cream or half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Mix all the dry ingredients together.

Cut the stick of butter into pieces, and work into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.

Add the liquid, mixing until a bit loose and sticky.

Pour dough out on a floured surface, and knead for a minute. Dough should be smooth and no longer wet. You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find it’s sticking.

Take dough into a ball, and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes.

Roll out dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, and then fold it in half.

Using a round cutter (can use a glass or a cup if don’t have a biscuit cutter) cut out your biscuits from folded dough.

Place on a greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

(If you don’t want to roll and cut them out, after kneading and beating the dough you can drop the dough onto the baking sheet with a spoon. They’re not as symmetrical (dropped biscuits are also known as cat head biscuits) but they’re no less delicious.)

Lauri Polunsky's Biscuits. You need no chilled butter, no biscuit cutter and no buttermilk. And no pan!

Lauri Polunsky's Biscuits

One day I was complaining in our cooking group that I wanted the perfect biscuit. Really moaning and groaning about it. You know how I get. Well, no one said a word, no one said there there, poor baby. They just ignored me. Lauri sent me a note and said, fear not! I have a perfect biscuit recipe for you. Lauri is what you would call a true friend. AND not only did she give me the biscuit recipe, she also asked me if I would like some of her Lemon Ginger Fig Preserves! She makes this herself! I said yes! And when the gorgeous concoction arrived, I didn't open it right away because I knew it would be gone in seconds flat. I just put it on the counter by the vegetables and started at it longingly on an hourly basis til I could stand it no more and I opened it and put some in some tiny tarts I made. Just two tiny tarts, one for me and one for Dad. I wanted to save the rest for the biscuits. But then I had some on a piece of bread last night. And then I hid the jar in the refrigerator so no one would find it.

Lauri says, "It's from an old cookbook. That's a half recipe - my son went on a biscuit bender from age 4 - 8 and he was the only one who ate them 7 days a week. That makes 2-3 large or 6 small and it has never failed me, even when I have melted the butter to soften it."

Pluses: You don't need buttermilk! You don't need chilled or frozen butter! You don't need a biscuit cutter, you can just score them! These are all major perks!

1 cup flour
1/2 TB baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 TB butter (I let it get to room temp)
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450. Line a pie tin loosely with a piece of buttered foil. Whisk the dry ingredients in a small bowl, cut in the butter, add the milk, stir to combine, put on a heavily floured cutting board and gently knead in more flour to create a soft dough. Cut into shapes or place on the foil and score into triangles or squares, gently pull foil edges up - biscuits like to be snug - and bake 10 minutes or until golden.

Southern Biscuits

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

Our friend Dawn Harmon told us about this biscuit recipe. Dad made them the first time and of course, it was a winner! It's AB! How could it miss?

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Advice courtesy Mae Skelton

I don't have much use for recipes but the one you get on a bag of White Lily(r) self-rising flour is hard to beat. And it's a lot easier than the one my crazy grandson dreamed up.
(Yes, this is advice from AB's grandmother! I haven't made the biscuits on the White Lily package but I will one day!)

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home Biscuits

My friends Woo and Alexis told me I was ready for Ad Hoc at Home earlier this year. My cooking has improved to this point. Not yet to French Laundry, mind you. This is a great book, so much valuable information you gain just by reading it.

2 cups cake flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp + 1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 cubes and chilled
1-1/2 cups buttermilk + 1 to 2 tbsp for brushing
2 to 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In bowl of food processor, combine two flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Pulse several times to blend. Add the chilled butter and pulse several times, until the pieces of butter are no bigger than small peas. Don't over process or let dough come together.

Transfer flour mixture to large bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Pour in 1-1/2 cups buttermilk. Stir and lift mixture with wooden spoon, gently working flour into buttermilk. Dough should begin to come together but not form solid mass or biscuits may be tough.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Pat into 3/4-inch rectangle, about 9 inches by 13 inches.

Using 2-1/2-inch round cutter (or bottom of glass), cut out biscuits. If the cutter sticks to the dough, dip the cutter in flour before cutting. The dough trimmings can be gently pushed together, patted out and cut one more time; do not overwork the dough.

Place biscuits, 1-inch apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of buttermilk.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until a rich golden brown. As soon as you remove the biscuits from the oven, brush with melted butter. Serve warm.

So, there you have it! After I recover from eating 4 biscuits, I'll write to you about how to make and freeze biscuits so you always have some on hand to wow people.


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