Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Buttermilk Biscuits

I have a challenge for you. Try explaining an American biscuit to a Brit. They know biscuits as what Americans know as cookies. They have tea and biscuits (cookies) in the afternoon, sell dainty tins of biscuits at novelty shops and eat them to soothe a sweet tooth. And when looking through British cookbooks you always have to remember the difference between the two- otherwise, you find yourself confused and frustrated with a seemingly helpless cookbook index. I was recently trying to get a Brit excited about me making biscuits and got the response, "Oh! Awesome, homemade biscuits. Oh wait, you mean, your kind of biscuits, don't you?" Yes, my kind of biscuits. I normally go with the, 'they are similar to scones but better' response. I often wonder if I'm alone in the Southern biscuit defense battle here in the UK.....

I introduced you to Jenne a couple of posts ago but I'm going to take it a bit more personal and explain that while we met in London we are both American Southern Gals, she from Florida and I from Tennessee. I can't put into words how nice it is to meet someone of your nationality, specifically, from your region, when you live abroad. I adore London and all its ups and downs, but nostolgia can pull at even the toughest of heart strings so while I may boast about my 'seamless move' (ha!), the idea of blazing summer weather, sickenly sweet iced tea and hot water corn bread sometimes brings a small tear to my eye. And finding a friend who shares these small pleasures and nostolgia with me, well, makes a lovely kitchen companion and a dear friend.

Time was ticking because Jenne is leaving (she's gone now...:( ) the UK for a bit and it's still unclear as to when we will be in the same town to share a kitchen. So, temporarily, I had a partner in my biscuit defense battle. It's in our genes to make biscuits. We can do it in our sleep. However, turning the batter into a dough to roll out fold and create delicious little clouds of layered butter and flour takes time and patience and practice. Over several pints one night we confided in each other this slight Southern disability that neither of us in fact could make a decent roll out biscuit. And before we could continue to represent all things Southern we decided we must set things straight. So, armed with bags of flour, giant sticks of butter and a wine bottle to use as a rolling pin, we embarked on our big roll out buttermilk biscuit adventure.

We used this video for guidance and followed the recipe almost exactly. Thing is, buttermilk is a lot harder to find here so we did the ol' adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk and let it curdle. It's easy, and works almost the same. Almost. There is a certain tang lacking with the make-do option, but it still does the trick. Just add one tablespoon either lemon juice or white vinegar per one cup liquid, whisk for a few seconds and let it stand for about ten minutes. Yes, it will curdle so don't let the chunk factor gross you out- it's all worth it in the end.

Transforming the batter into a workable dough is a bit tricky. It's about adding just the right amount of flour and resisting from kneading it too much. Overworking the dough will release its gluten and leave you with hockey pucks, not heavenly pillows of delight. Jenne and I still have some practice to do in the roll out biscuit realm, however, we are well on our way to becoming experts. If you are doing this for the first time I have a bit of advice. A.) Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Just chuck yourself into it. B.) Please please don't over knead. C.) Try if you can to roll the biscuits out on a cold surface. This will keep the butter solid while working on it with warm hands. It's similar to pastry crust....but oh so much more satisfying!

I'm prepared to fight the biscuit battle alone. It's gonna take a whole lotta butter and whole lotta explaining, but I'm prepared to introduce Brits to the joy of Southern buttermilk biscuits. One Brit at a time if I have to- it's for their own good, really. And honestly, so far, I've gotten nothing but praise.

The recipe as it appears on the video link above:

4 C white flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks (16 oz) butter
1 1/4 C buttermilk

-preheat oven to 375 degrees

-cut the butter into chunks and let chill in the fridge (minimum of ten minutes)

-mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl

-work in the butter until it resembles course meal and has pea sized bits of butter throughout

-add the buttermilk (or make-do mixture) to the flour

-stir together gently (careful, it's a pretty wet batter)

-once it starts sticking together plop it out onto a floured surface and work it together into a soft dough

-roll out to about a quarter of an inch thickness and fold the dough in half, then in half again, like a piece of paper. repeat if necessary

-roll out again and cut the dough into circles with a cutter (or coffee cup) or cut into squares as pictured above

-bake for 18-20 minutes or until puffy and golden brown

-let them cool on a cooling rack and eat immediately. get ready to live!


Chris said...

Reminds me of how Barry Lyndon feels when he realizes the Chevalier is secretly Irish...those biscuits look good!

Chris Ryan said...

1.) Yes, you used a wine bottle for a rolling pin. Awesome.
2.) How long until you introduce them to biscuits AND white gravy? Maybe when I visit? It's one of those odd Southern things I (for whatever reason) know how to make.
3.) Slightly unrelated, but there is a restaurant called Avo here and they have avocado in a ton of their dishes. Yeah. I know, right?

sweet-tempered said...

Chris, words cannot describe how happy it makes me that you relate this post to my favorite movie ever. And my favorite part even....whew, very touching darling. You know me oh so well.

Chris Ryan,
1.) Unfortunately I drank that bottle of wine by myself the night before and had to make biscuits with a hangover. Totally worth it though to have the rolling pin.
2.) You can make gravy? Of course you can, Mr. Secret Chef! It's so on when you visit.
3.) Is Alabama like a little London? Everything here is abbreviated. If the word is longer than three letters you can bet there's a shortened version of it. I'm hanging onto my full name for dear life over here!!!! I'm glad you have comfort food nearby- can't go wrong with a bunch of avocado dishes.

yohabloespanglish said...

Ah, that was a great day. But I do have to admit that I have gone back to making drop biscuits. Maybe I need a marble counter like the lady in that video. And remember: I found buttermilk at Tesco.

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