All Puffed Up About Bread, Love, and Heritage.

Breads and Muffins / April 22, 2016
Deep inside of us is a need to be connected with others. We are looking for experiences that bind us together and satisfy our primal need to know that we matter. And, other than the need to sleep, the most transcendent example of human desire is hunger. It is so basic in fact that it emcompasses almost every part of our memory. Through it we find or have found wisdom, friendship, creativity, even God. We connect food and memory with ease, needing only to mention the lingering flashback of some past deliciousness to travel to a place where all is possible.

I suppose no treatise on food would be complete without mentioning bread. Yes, I thought you’d agree. Look at that butter dripping off the edges of a warm, brown crust. You are loving it, I know. There is something almost poetic l about this kind of food; the way yeast billows its way into our hearts is so comforting because it is the mascot for our survival as a species.

Think about it. Every culture on earth is seemingly founded upon the worth of their loaves. From Moses to Caesar to Genghis Khan, we see the path of civilization rise literally from the insides of a loaf pan. Our history of the world seems to have begun with a slice, crust, wafer or knob of BREAD.

Before I launch into a full blown screenplay worthy of the Discovery Channel, let me explain why I am writing in an almost scriptural way. The story of these biscuits you see here begins long before I was wearing an apron. It was birthed by a great Aunt who, although unable to show love outwardly, did show affection to others with her food. I heard about her over the years from my father, but the seed to recreate her biscuits began as my dad and I sat on a plane, ready to take a trip to Paris, Texas where he was going to be reunited with his (and I might add, “my”) cousins, after almost 40 years.

“I’m hoping one of my cousins can teach you how to make my Aunt Ada’s biscuits,” he whispered in an almost reverent tone. “I always see her hands in my mind, her fingers mixing the lard, buttermilk and flour… and then the taste. Oh, the taste of those biscuits….” and he was lost in memory.

During our visit we were immersed in memory. And I discovered so much more about myself through a heritage I had previously been unfamiliar with. And yet, through it all it seemed we still found a way to talk about food. I am working on a short story about the visit, so I won’t digress too much off the subject of bread, but suffice it to say, I was deeply inspired by my roots…and I learned what was needed to MAKE THOSE BISCUITS.

When we talk about lard, the non-fat, 90’s era side of our brains go into shock. We compare ingesting lard to the act of swallowing petroleum. But so much has changed in our collective catalog of food facts and we know now that lard is not our enemy but a gift that we must respect and hold on to. Which leads me to the real truth and that is you cannot make a perfect southern biscuit without it. Period.

Biscuits are about loft, texture, and their uncanny ability to elevate butter, jam and honey into an exquisite art form. Lard’s high melting point, let alone texture, along with the acidic gift of buttermilk go a long way to assist the gentle and experienced hand of a master baker navigate through the process. I honor and respect anyone who can stand above a bowl of flour and tame it successfully. Don’t even get me started on how formidable gluten is. I would go so far as to say that even the great philosophers know better than to tackle that subject. But if one is patient, and can channel a bit of history into their kitchen, biscuits can be conquered, even mastered. And although I am FAR from being a master at it, I was able to recreate a memory full of flavor and love.
These were “dad” approved! A memory in his mouth…

Real Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 12 to 14


Ingredients:

3 C all-purpose flour, sifted
½ t kosher salt
½ t baking soda
1 heaping T baking powder
Almost ½ C lard room temperature
1-1 ¼ C buttermilk
Butter to melt on top


Method:

  • ​Use a large bowl with more than enough room for you to get your hands in and work the dough.
  • Sift the flour and add, then add the salt, soda and baking powder and stir with spoon or fork to incorporate throughout the flour. Make a well in the flour and add the buttermilk. Then, using your hands, take the lard and begin to work it in through the buttermilk only. Don’t incorporate into the flour yet. Rub between your fingers of one hand, pulling and squishing, until the lard is fairly distributed throughout the buttermilk, almost like a VERY lumpy gravy. Now, starting with small circle motions, begin to scoop your hand into the liquid and the flour, making sweeps all around to incorporate the flour and the buttermilk. Chances are you won’t use all the flour and don’t try. You’re looking for a texture just past sticky. Once you have that, roll the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead the mixture on top of itself only about 5-6 times, until it comes together. Don’t overwork. Try to do this with the fewest motions you can. It’s not a contest, just don’t linger. Get it done and together fast. When you have it formed into a circle, cover with a wet paper towel and let rest for 40 minutes, letting the glutens relax a little.
  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Pull out a bit of the dough to form each biscuit with your hands, just a bit larger than a golf ball. Roll into ball, flatten a little on arrange on a dark, ungreased baking sheet. Should make about 12. Bake for 7-8 minutes. Now, turn your broiler on for the last minute and a half of cooking. Leave the biscuits in the center of the oven and broil on high until it barely starts to toast the tops of the biscuits. (This is optional if you want more color.) Don’t overcook! Remove, brush with butter, and then serve!


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