Biscuits are a cornerstone of Southern cooking. But, of course, they should never be hard as a stone; only light and airy will do.
You can do that in your kitchen, using only a couple of ingredients.
In “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $$45), Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart write that “it’s miraculous to make a biscuit with only two ingredients, particularly when making such an impressive biscuit, light and tender, capable of convincing anyone that the cook was born holding a biscuit bowl. This recipe is a good fallback for anyone who hasn’t made a biscuit for a while or has to hurry up and get some baked. If using a cream with less fat (heavy cream has 36 percent), start with less and use only what is needed to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Half-and-half just doesn’t work well enough to use by itself. This is really and hurry-up recipe, but the directions are detailed.”
Graubart will be demonstrating how to make these beauties at the San Antonio Book Festival on April 5. She will appear from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Central Market Cooking Tent located at the Southwest School of Art, outside in the Ursuline Campus parking lot on Augusta Street.
2 1/4 cups self-rising flour, divided use
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided use
Butter, softened or melted, for finishing
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Selecting the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, use an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, a pizza pan, or an ovenproof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and create a crisper exterior. Brush selected pan with butter or oil.
Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1/4 cup. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Slowly but steadily stir 1 cup of the cream, reserving 1/4 cup, into the hollow with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the cream. Mix just until the dry ingredient is moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in just enough of the reserved cream to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy, wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.
Lightly sprinkle a plastic sheet, a board or other clean surface with some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour if sticky. With floured hands, folks the dough in half and pat it into a 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if sticky and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough into a 1/2-inch-thick round for normal biscuits, a 3/4-inch-thick round for tall biscuits , or a 1-inch-thick round for giant biscuits. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although they will be tougher.
Using a metal spatula, if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes, until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard the browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes, until the biscuits are light golden brown. When they are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.
- For Sour Cream or Cream Cheese Biscuits, substitute 1 cup sour cream or cream cheese for the heavy cream. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. This makes a moist biscuit.
- For Yogurt and Cream Biscuits, use 1/2 cup yogurt and 3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half.
- For Yogurt Biscuits, add 1 teaspoon salt to the flour and 1 cup plain yogurt for the heavy cream. Add a bit of milk or cream to moisten if a “drier” yogurt is used. Yogurt biscuits are a bit “bouncy.”
- For Strawberry Shortcake, add 1 or tablespoons sugar to the dough. Line a cake pan with parchment paper. Pat the dough into the lined cake pan. Bake as above. Remove from the oven, brush the top with butter, and turn upside down on a rack to cool slightly. When cool. slice in half horizontally. To serve, sandwich with sugared strawberries and cream or serve a bowl of each separately.
Makes 14 to 18 (2-inch) biscuits.
From “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart