On a typical weeknight Chris and I like to watch Jeopardy and then, once I’ve finished kicking Chris’s ass, Alton Brown’s Good Eats. Such is the exciting life of nerds. Truth be told, I only beat him at Jeopardy about half the time and Chris only tolerates Good Eats because AB occasionally talks about bacon. We mostly watch because I kind of have a thing for Alton Brown, what with his geeky culinary evangelism and his cheesy impersonations of historical figures. But the other night instead of Good Eats we caught a very old rerun of the first ever episode of Feasting on Asphalt, in which AB meanders through Georgia and the Carolinas sampling collards and pinto beans, fried chicken and pickled pigs’ feet, and cornbread and biscuits.
It was the biscuits that got me.
“I really miss biscuits,” I sighed, and the next thing I knew tears were trickling down my cheeks. Suddenly I missed all sorts of things the biscuits represented: the smell of the ocean, Krispy Kreme doughnuts hot off the line, magnolia blossoms swaying in the warm breeze, little old ladies who call you honey and, of course, my family. It’s funny how a big ol’ thing like homesickness can just sneak up on you like that.
So I put on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I am a Town” and had myself a good cry, then I mixed up some biscuits and called my mama (who is from Brooklyn; let’s not kid ourselves here). She was too busy — doing lord knows what — to chat with me, but I did have an interesting conversation with my brother, who suggested I electrocute my cats. It wasn’t quite the consolation I’d hoped for.
But the biscuits, well holy Catfish Hunter, as my grandfather liked to say. The biscuits were damn near perfect — light and airy, tender and crumbly, with a crisp crust and a slight tang. Best of all, they tasted just like home.
from Baking Illustrated
This recipe uses both all-purpose flour and cake flour; the all-purpose flour give the biscuits their crispy crust while the cake flour is responsible for the tender, crumbly texture. You could use all-purpose flour by itself, but you’d have to add a bit more liquid (maybe 2 T?). The biscuit dough is made in a food processor; it’s important that the fat (in this case, butter) melt while baking rather than while mixing so that the biscuits rise properly, and I find the best way to ensure this is to mix quickly in a food processor rather than by hand. I learn all this stuff by watching Alton Brown and reading Cook’s Illustrated.
1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. cake flour
2 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
1 t. sugar
½ t. salt
8 T. (one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼” cubes
¾ c. cold buttermilk (or ¾ c. + 2 T. plain yogurt)
1) Preheat your oven to 450°F.
2) Place the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in the bowl of the food processor. Process with six 1-second pulses. Remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and process with twelve 1-second pulses.
3) Remove cover and pour buttermilk evenly over the dough. Process until the dough gathers into moist clumps, about eight 1-second pulses.
4) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and quickly form into a rough ball, being careful not to overmix. Use a sharp knife to divide the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds. Quickly and gently shape each piece into a rough ball and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
5) Bake until the biscuits are light brown, 10-12 minutes. Serve hot.