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June, 2011

Delicious Homemade Biscuits with Fresh Fruit Jam

By Heidi Allison

If you’ve ever tasted a fresh, hot homemade biscuit right out of the oven, you’ll never buy pre-packaged biscuit dough again!

Homemade Biscuits with Fresh Fruit Jam
A properly-made baking powder biscuit is one of the most soul-satisfying foods you can put in your mouth—flaky, rich and crumbly all at the same time. And, biscuits are surprisingly easy to make—a great starter recipe for novice bakers.

While this quick bread is a fairly straight forward recipe, there are a few tricks—using the right ingredients and handling the dough as little as possible makes the perfect biscuit. Traditionally, Southern cooks used soft wheat flour, which has a lower protein content than AP flour and produces less gluten, which creates a more tender biscuit. Since White Lily flour is no longer produced in the South and Martha White flour is hard to source north of the Mason Dixon line, cooks had to get creative with their ingredients. The solution is mixing all-purpose flour with low-protein cake flour in the right proportions. This flour mixture comes pretty close to those iconic Southern products, and produces the perfect texture biscuit aficionado’s pine for.

Liquids are also crucial in quick breads. Prior to the 1950’s, heavy cream was added to impart tenderness, while good quality buttermilk was the liquid of choice for lighter biscuits. Yet, the good quality buttermilk our Grandmother’s used is no longer produced by large-scale dairies. The secret is to add a small amount of cider vinegar to a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream. Although you won’t taste the vinegar in the finished product, a mere teaspoon makes all the difference between a tough, flat biscuit and a sky-high biscuit with a flaky texture.
Another secret Southern ingredient that imparted texture and a deep, rich flavor was high quality lard. Prior to the 1950’s, lard was lighter and had less saturated fat than the lard produced today from commercially raised hogs. After good-quality lard was no longer readily available, partially-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (Crisco) quickly became the go-to biscuit fat. Although it produced a biscuit with good mouth-feel, trans-fats emerged as a health issue and it was reformulated—with mediocre results. Using a natural, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening seemed like a good choice, but the biscuits lacked the rich depth of flavor I was looking for. After testing this recipe many times, I discovered combining the natural vegetable shortening and a good quality, unsalted butter into the recipe created a biscuit with a flaky texture and rich, flavor—problem solved!

Finally, how the dough is handled will make or break a biscuit. A common mistake many overzealous novice bakers make is overworking the dough, which develops the gluten and creates more of a hockey puck than a biscuit. While kneading is crucial for breads, it’s a death knoll for biscuits. The trick is have the wet and dry ingredient separate, then gently mixed until just combined, The sticky dough must be lightly patted with your finger tips into a round disk shape and quickly cut with a biscuit cutter in a straight downward, (not grinding) motion. This step must be done quickly or you will lose the quickly dissipating leavening gases and wind up with rather flat biscuits.

Southern-Style Baking Powder Biscuits
Makes: 6 large biscuits

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. double –acting baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher flake salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
½ cup whole sweet milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. cider vinegar

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a pizza stone or cast iron grill in the oven at the middle setting and heat for 30 minutes. Place milk, cream, shortening and butter in freezer for 15 minutes. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large, chilled stainless steel bowl; then whisk 5-6 times until mixed. Cut the shortening and butter into teaspoon-size pieces and drop into the flour. With 2 knives, cut the fats into the flour until the mixture looks like large crumbs. Add milk, cream and vinegar into a measuring cup and stir with a large fork several times. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add milk mixture all at once. Run the outside of the fork around the perimeter of the bowl and fold dough in toward the center with each turn until all the ingredients just come together—about 10 turns. Remove the pizza stone or cast iron grill from the oven. Lightly flour a wooden cutting board and your hands; then place the dough on the board. With your fingertips, lightly pat the dough to a ½-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut biscuits into rounds using a straight-down motion. Place the biscuits, without touching, on the pizza stone or cast iron grill and bake for 10-13 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot with fresh fruit jam or Southern-style with sliced ham and pepper jelly.

Notes from the Author: Biscuits will keep for one day in plastic container. Add chopped thyme or sage for herbed biscuits. Freezes well—reheat in a 300º oven for 10 minutes.