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Cookbook Review: Biscuits by Belinda Ellis

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Belinda Ellis had the perfect job. For 15 years, she worked for White Lilly Flour, touring the country and showing people how to make biscuits. She’s traveling less but writing more. Biscuits, a Savor the South cookbook from the University of North Carolina Press, is her perfect tome, her lovely tribute with deep insights into biscuits. Biscuits, it turns out, are less humble than you might expect.

If you’ve ever had a White Lilly Flour biscuit, I need say no more. Light and flakey and flavorful. It’s a wonder.

If you know French, then you know that “biscuit” comes from “twice baked” just like biscotti. The original biscuits were like hardtack, designed for long lifetimes at sea. Not soft and flakey.

The key to great biscuits is the flour, particularly from soft winter wheat. That flour is very low in gluten. Gluten is what you want for a cake or a cookie. It is not what you want for a biscuit.

The combination of soft winter wheat flour and buttermilk is essential to making the classic Southern biscuits. Why did biscuits rise, no pun intended, in the South. The soft winter wheat was there. Buttermilk was aplenty. And biscuits bake quickly. In the rural and poor south, having to fire an oven for less time made biscuits the choice over bread.

Biscuits presents over 50 recipes. There is the classic Southern treat, rolled out and cut. There are drop biscuits [aka “lazy” because you don’t roll]. But, but in defense of dropping the dough, Belinda emphasizes that the best way to make a bad biscuit is to overwork the dough. Remember, gluten is not your friend. So, dropping the dough is fine. You should not feel guilt.

The chapter on flavored biscuits provides an abundance of combinations to make your morning. I’ve already posted this week about a Bacon Cheddar gem. Belinda offers more extravagant options:

  • Gorgonzola, Walnut and Cranberry
  • Fresh Garlic, Cheese and Herb
  • Pimento Cheese
  • Goat Cheese
  • Black Pepper and Sour Cream

If you love biscuits so much you want them for dinner, you can do that. In fact, the biscuits don’t have to sit on the side of the plate. You’ll find recipes for:

  • The Southern Reuben
  • Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar Biscuit Topping
  • Chicken and Dumplings
  • Lamb Stew with Caramelized Onion Mashed Potato Dumplings

It’s now officially fall. Biscuits was officially published on September 4th. The timing could not have been better. A cool night and warm biscuit are the ingredients for family memories that will never be forgotten.

 

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