Suzi's Blog

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.

 

Bacon Cheddar Biscuits

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The lovely new book Biscuits, a Savor the South cookbook from the University of North Carolina Press asks a fundamental question: why not put the bacon right in the biscuit.

While you’re at it, why not add in some cheese. Breakfast can be something with a biscuit on the side, or you can make these full flavor items your total meal. A good cup of coffee and one or two these Bacon-Cheddar Biscuits is an ideal way to start your Sunday. Or Monday, or …

As with really authentic biscuits, these are made with buttermilk. To make life easy, they are not rolled and cut out. These are drop biscuits whose ragged top and edges make each biscuit charmingly unique.

The recipe below suggests dividing the cheese in half, putting half in the dough and sprinkling the rest over the top of the biscuits before baking. In our case, we wanted the cheese flavor deep inside so all that cheese and bacon went inside. A marvelous personal choice, I must say.

Bacon-Cheddar

Yield: 8 biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups soft wheat all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  •  4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch chunks and chilled for 15 minutes
  • 6-8 ounces smoky bacon
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • ¾ cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon rendered bacon fat.

Preparation:

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

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until it’s the size of small peas.

In a skillet over low heat, cook the bacon until done. Drain on paper towels, reserving the rendered fat. Finely chop the bacon and return to the skillet. Cook over low heat until the bacon is crisp and most of the fat is rendered, about 7 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

Stir the bacon and half of the cheese into the flour mixture. Add the buttermilk and rendered bacon fat and stir to combine. Add additional buttermilk if needed to create a sticky dough.

Using an ice cream scoop on heaping tablespoon, drop the biscuits onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 12 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown.

Source: Biscuits: a Savor the South cookbook by Belinda Ellis, Copyright 2013 by the Univrsity fo North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.ed.

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 18-55MM Macro lens shot at F/2.8, 1/100th second, ISO 500