Gulf Coast Cooking

Traditional Southern biscuits with a twist

A Southern-style biscuit is about as simple as it gets in the world of baking.

That does not mean this most uncomplicated recipe does not require some serious experience and some bakery know-how.

Southerners can be pretty critical of a less-than-perfect biscuit, but a novice can achieve some initial success.

As always, there are a handful of decisions to make. Should you use buttermilk or whole milk? Lard or butter? Should the biscuits be light and fluffy or thin and crisp?

To complicate the matter, you must decide how to serve them -- plain with just a kiss of butter or should you serve sorghum molasses and enough butter to make a sweet, sticky lake?

A good biscuit can also be filled with the likes of ham, eggs, cheese, sausage or any other breakfast food. Some people like them with chicken-fried steaks, biscuits and gravy, or even a fried pork chop.

It is an almost endless world of possibilities, but what a delicious dilemma with which to be confronted.

The biscuit may be a simple endeavor, but what a delicious friend it can be. On an early morning, when the body just says no, it can fortify you for the day's adventure. On a leisurely Sunday morning, topped with pools of butter and your favorite strawberry jam, it can be a blissful way to start the day.

BASIC RECIPE

5 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 cup lard

1-1/4 cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the lard and cut it in by hand, add the buttermilk and blend until smooth. On a flowered surface knead for 2 to 3 minutes. Flatten the dough ball, then roll out to about 1/2-inch, but make sure it is of a uniform thickness. Use a biscuit cutter, or jar lid to cut the biscuit shapes out. Pierce each all over with a fork. Place on a buttered baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes. When they are done, brush the tops with butter and serve piping hot.

SWEET POTATO BISCUITS

This is a delightful departure from what we normally expect from a biscuit, but it is a delicious one.

1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 pinches salt

3/4 cup leftover, cooked mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 stick room temp butter

2 tablespoons milk

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and then sift. Separately, thoroughly combine the sweet potatoes, milk and butter. Now combine both mixtures. On a flowered surface, work the dough until it is smooth. Roll it out approximately 1/2-inch thick, then cut with a biscuit cutter, or other shape you prefer. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Brush the tops with melted butter. Serve with homemade fig preserves.

GREMOLATA BISCUITS AND LEMON HONEY BUTTER

This is a great biscuit recipe and the lemon honey butter recipe that follows is going to become a family favorite. It is delicious. This recipe was provided by Katie Fisco, pastry chef at Vestige in Ocean Springs, Miss.

1 head of garlic

1/2 bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut up

3/4 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice the garlic in half, add a little oil and salt and roast in tinfoil at 450 degrees until tender. When cooled separate the garlic from the skins. Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Rough chop the parsley, then combine with the flour mixture, butter, the soft garlic and salt, using your hands. The texture should be grainy and all the butter broken up. It is said the key to a great biscuit is a light hand. This is because the more you work the flour, the tougher the biscuit. Heeding this advice, add the buttermilk little by little. Add half the buttermilk at a time. Once it comes together do not add any more buttermilk. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap and place the dough on it. Now layer another piece of plastic wrap on top. Sandwiching your dough between these pieces of plastic wrap helps the dough stay moist. Press the dough into a thick disc and let chill 30 minutes. Once the dough is chilled, roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Use a round cutter to punch out the biscuits. Push straight down and do not twist your cutter so your biscuits are not misshapen. Place on parchment lined sheet tray. They should be spaced about an inch or so apart. If you'd like you can brush the biscuits with a buttermilk egg wash. The biscuits are done when they are golden brown on top. About 12 minutes.

LEMON HONEY BUTTER

1/2 pound of butter

3 tablespoons of honey (to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lemon

Cut up the butter and let come to room temperature. Put into a stand mixer and beat with paddle attachment until it is the texture of mayonnaise. Zest one lemon and juice. Add lemon zest and juice along with the honey to the butter. Mix until completely incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the biscuits straight out of the oven. Crack one open and let the steam melt the lemon butter into every flaky crevice. Enjoy!

Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes the Coast Cooking column that appears in Wednesday's Taste section. He is a food writer and photographer with regular columns also in magazines.

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