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In Search of the Perfect Biscuit

My grandma could whip up a batch of biscuits in seconds flat. Five people for breakfast...not a problem. Twenty people...piece of cake. The only difference between these two scenarios was the amount of flour she’d pile on the counter and the amount of lard she’d use. It was mesmerizing watching her work that lard into the flour. She’d stop every now and then to stir something on the stove and then go right back to working the dough. Never missed a beat. Then she’d pour some milk into it and mix away. A little more flour to keep it from sticking then she’d punch out the biscuits using whatever jelly jar happened to be nearby. And, voila, the biscuits were ready to go into the oven. That is my memory of homemade biscuits.

Fast forward to today. My husband and I set out to create our own biscuit recipe. Our quest was harder than you might think. Perhaps we were trying to hard. Who knows? Every batch yielded good tasting biscuits but not great. We tried making them with butter, lard, and a mixture of both. All-purpose flour versus self-rising flour. Milk versus buttermilk. Large pieces of butter versus smaller pieces. Pretty much every possible combination around.

But they weren’t quite right. I think it comes with being programmed into thinking the frozen and refrigerated biscuits that you pick up in the grocery or at McDonald’s are the norm. It seemed that we were trying to measure our biscuits against those. But, no offense to Ronald, we didn’t want to make McDonald’s biscuits or use the ingredients they use. Grandma didn’t have modified cellulose, xanthan gum, or soy lecithin in her pantry. Whatever all that is… Here’s the thing we had to accept. We wanted to make biscuits like my grandma used to make, and she didn’t make McDonald’s biscuits.

So the search went on, and then we came upon an article on cathead biscuits. Cathead biscuits are huge, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside biscuits. The name comes from their colossal size, about that of a cat's head. Their size and crunch make them ideal to serve with, well, just about anything and, specifically, Honey Child Jellies!  It’s a widely held belief (and one we wholeheartedly agree with) that jelly and biscuits go hand-in-hand. Piling a spoonful of jelly on a warm biscuit can be a transformative spiritual experience in our book. And with catheads now in the mix, it seemed like these just checked at least one of the boxes in our biscuit quest.

Continued searching on-line brought us to another interesting cathead biscuit article on entitled My Biscuit Recipe is Full of Fluff. The premise is that when you set out to make flaky biscuits you are, in fact, laminating the dough in a fashion similar to how you make a pastry (think croissant). If you, instead, make fluffy biscuits, like a cathead biscuit, you are making a dough similar to bread. The entire mixing method was completely backwards to my thinking. Add the liquid first? What the heck is buttermilk powder? What? This can’t be right. This isn’t the way Grandma made her biscuits.

We decided to try a batch. After all, what did we have to lose? Once the dough was mixed it was just like making rolls. Scale out the biscuits and roll into shape. Nestle those bad boys into a cast iron pan and pop it into the oven for a nice long bake. They were absolutely amazing!  Large, fluffy biscuits that practically melted into your mouth. Success at last. That elusive perfect biscuit was almost within reach. Just needed to tweak the size a bit and we were good to go.

And then…...While reading the latest issue of Garden & Gun, we ran across an article about Sharon Benton (of Benton’s bacon fame) and her 2 ingredient biscuits. Two ingredients? Are you kidding me? You’re telling me that all you need to make great tasting biscuits is self-rising flour and high quality, full fat buttermilk? She was right. These biscuits were fantastic.

In the end what we realized was that we could spend the rest of our lives trying to get back the biscuit that my grandma made for so many years and never get there. Partly, because my fondness of my grandma’s biscuits exist because of my deep love of her. I’ll never be able to recreate them with the rose-colored filter that my memory has now applied to them. But where we did end up is having a heck of a lot of fun trying to solve a puzzle and perfect something that is immune from perfection. We made our own memories, and biscuits, that both go great with jelly.

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