Lately I've put a little effort into learning more about Southern cooking. That is, a few weeks ago I bought Hugh Acheson's book, A New Turn in the South, to give me a northern convert modernist's contrast to the solid traditions documented in Scott Peacock's book on the cuisine of Edna Mae Lewis, the only other Southern cookbook I have. Now I just have to do some cooking.
Turns out my Los Angeles-based buddy Annabelle has been recently bit by the same bug. She and her partner John gained some exposure to Southern food while living in Houston for a number of years, and she had just acquired a copy of the Lee Brothers cookbook that's called something like Southern Cooking: Recipes and Stories for Southerners and Would-be Southerners. With Bob and I coming for the weekend with a whole fresh ham in tow, she decided to draw on that book for inspiration when stocking up on ingredients.
Annabelle loves to cook, but her partner John is major risk-averse so she tends not to experiment until she has company in the kitchen to make her brave. Always, some meals are planned and some are open for suggestions I might have about ways to use the ingredients she's gathered. This weekend, she planned to serve a short rib recipe from the Lee Bros. book and make her first ever cornbread, but she didn't know which kind of corn meal to use so she bought an organic fine ground as well as Bob's Red Mill coarser "Yellow Grits". She also bought black kale (aka Dinosaur, also Tuscan) and some fresh cod for which there were no plans. The ham I brought was destined for a Burgundian style terrine Jambon Persille, my contribution as a course for the wine dinner on Saturday night I'd come to help with. Like an episode of Chopped, it was pretty obvious that we should use the coarse grits in the cornbread to go with the ribs on Friday night, use the finer meal to coat the cod and serve it panfried over a raw kale and wild rice salad for Friday lunch, and serve ham and grits with red eye gravy for breakfast on Sunday with some buttermilk biscuits.
Which gets me around to the purpose of this post. We used the Lee Bros. recipe for the buttermilk biscuits, and used a super white and super fine Korean flour that Annabelle stocks which we both thought would be a lot like the cake flour called for. The result was the best biscuit I've ever tasted. The flavor was perfect, not too salty as many I've tasted have been nor vaguely bitter from the baking powder as were others. The exterior was delicately crunchy and the interior full of the tender layers that have eluded my own attempts at biscuitry in the past, and I've tried a lot of recipes that promised I'd need no other. They were always wrong. But here at last was the biscuit I've always believed was possible but have never been able to produce myself.
So I'm posting it.
Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
makes 10-12 2" biscuits
•2 1/4 cups cake flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
•1 Tbs baking powder
•1 Tbs plus 1 tsp sugar
•1 tsp salt
•6 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
•3/4 cup cold buttermilk
•2 Tbs melted butter, for brushing
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Pulse several times to combine well. Add the butter and continue to pulse in 2-second increments, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few pea-sized pieces (about 5 pulses). This can also be done using a pastry blender or 2 forks if you don't have a food processor.
Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, pour the buttermilk over it, and use a fork to mix for about 1 minute or until the dough just comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead with floured hands, and pat into a rectangle about 6x10 inches and 1-inch thick.
Fold the dough like a business letter (the rightmost third over the center third, then the left third on top). Turn the dough a quarter of a turn, pat it into another 6x10 inch rectangle, and fold it upon itself in thirds again. Repeat one more time, then pat the dough into a 6x10 inch rectangle a final time.
Using a floured 2-3 inch biscuit cutter, cut the biscuits from the dough and place them about 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Pat the scraps into a 1-inch thick rectangle and cut more biscuits.
Brush the tops with half the melted butter, and bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are just beginning to brown. Brush the tops again with the remaining butter and serve warm.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov