Nothing says “Country Breakfast” like fresh, hot buttermilk biscuits.
There’s really nothing hard about making biscuits. With a little bit of practice, you can whip up a batch in 15 minutes or less (plus baking time, of course).
The secret to making great, flaky biscuits lies in a few basic principles.
- Chill all of your ingredients before you start
- Cut in the fat with a pastry cutter
- Add just enough liquid to hold the dry ingredients together
- Use liquid with a slightly acid pH
- Don’t overwork the dough
- Use a sharp biscuit cutter
If you stop to think about it, most cooking, including making biscuits and other quick breads, is nothing more than applied organic chemistry.
Light, flaky biscuits result from thin layers of moist dough, separated by layers of fat (lard, shortening or butter), raised high by heat and trapped gases generated by the reaction between bases (baking powder & soda) and acids (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon).
Don’t have buttermilk? Use milk with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice or yogurt mixed in. Don’t want to use lard? Use shortening or butter instead.
Once you understand the basic chemistry of cooking, it’s easy to make substitutions and create your own variations.
- 1/4 lb smoked hog jowl, cut into 1/4″ dice (substitute thick sliced bacon if jowl is unavailable)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 Tbsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup pure lard or shortening
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 cup thinly sliced fresh ramps, including greens (reserve 1 Tbsp white portion for ramp butter, recipe follows)
- 1/4 lb softened butter
- Pinch paprika
Make the biscuit dough:
Cook the hog jowl or bacon in a large skillet over medium high heat until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels until cool.
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, “cut in” the lard until it’s in little flour-coated pieces the size of a grain of rice. Take care that you do not cut the lard or shortening too finely – it’s easier than you might think. When the dough is rolled out, it’s these tiny globules of fat that will make your biscuits light and flaky.
Add the sliced ramps and crisped jowl and gently stir in just enough buttermilk to make the dry ingredients adhere into a soft ball of dough. Do not mix any more than absolutely necessary. It’s OK if the dough is not completely homogeneous at this point – the kneading with take care of any lumps or unincorporated ingredients.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and gently fold the dough on itself just until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. Add a little flour to the kneading surface as you go if the dough is too sticky. Be careful not to overwork the dough.
Roll the dough & cut the biscuits:
Using a rolling pin well-dusted with flour, roll out the dough until about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the biscuits with a sharp biscuit cutter or 3-inch diameter tin can with both ends cut out. Do not use a glass or jar to cut the biscuits. It’s important to make sharp, clean cut if you want your biscuits to raise high and flaky and a glass will pinch the edges of the biscuits together.
When you have cut all the biscuits you can from the sheet of dough, gently knead the leftover portion back together into a mass. Again, roll the dough 3/4 inch thick and cut the remaining biscuits.
Lightly grease a baking sheet and arrange the cut biscuits spaced evenly on it, about 2 inches apart.
Make the ramp butter:
Lightly cook the reserved 1 Tbsp of ramps in a little of the fat from the hog jowls until slightly softened and translucent. Set aside to cool slightly. Put the softened butter into a small bowl and mix in the ramps and paprika, stirring vigorously until the butter is smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Use a small food processor if you prefer.
Bake the biscuits:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Brush the tops of the raw biscuits with a little of the ramp infused butter. Place the biscuits into the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve immediately with more of the ramp butter.
Makes 12 – 16 biscuits.
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