I finally have a plausible explanation for having bourbon with my breakfast.
Our newest culinary departure is a Mesquite-smoked buttermilk biscuit, slathered with salted, sweet-cream butter and Maker’s Mark Mint Julep Jelly. It’s even better than it sounds – the kind of flavor combination that makes you rationalize having, “just one more” five or six times before witnessing the unbuckling of the belt, a Terror Squad and Fat Joe ‘lean back,’ and the always-popular, table etiquette-smashing migration of the hand to that spot between your stomach and the fabric of your sansabelt pants.
Heavenly comfort food. Damn the stinkeye my wife’s throwing at me just because her mom is having breakfast with us this morning. Don’t think I didn’t see her butter one up and drop it in her purse beside the table. (Reminds me of the time my cousin Scott, age 5, packed ice cream sandwiches in his suitcase before going home from grandma’s house, but that’s another story).
I don’t hold it against her. If I were at her table, I’d do the same thing – either eat my fill, which would be followed by the hand migration move, or drop a couple of these biscuits in the man purse I carry with me. Have I piqued your interest – in the food, not my table manners?
Below, you will find some tips on making a really good buttermilk biscuit (smoked or unsmoked) and, if you are interested in the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep Jelly, you can come see us at Out of Abilene at the Abilene Farmer’s Market or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mesquite-Smoked Buttermilk Biscuit
Ingredients (makes 8 good biscuits and four or so outliers – explained later)
2 cups mesquite-smoked flour (directions follow)
1t Kosher salt
1T Baking powder
1/4t baking soda
6T frozen unsalted sweet cream butter cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 cup Buttermilk
1. To smoke your flour – Preheat oven to 450 degrees. While it is heating, make a smoker out of a disposable roasting pan. To do this, make yourself a “bowl” of out tin foil that covers 2/3 of the pan. Pour three cups of flour in the bowl and smooth it out to a half-inch thick. Place a small stack of wood chips on the outside of the bowl in the remaining one-third of the pan. Cover whole thing tightly with tin foil and shove it in the oven to begin smoking. Here is where your preference and experimentation comes in. If you want just a hint of smoke (a little fragrance and perhaps a tinge of flavor for the most discerning/delicate palates), smoke your flour about 20 minutes, remove it (the top will have started to develop a crust), break it up, sift it and put it back in for another 20 minutes. If you want more pronounced smoke flavor, I have heard of folks going multiple hours. It depends on your palate (or your guests). Smell and taste. Reserve for whenever you decide to make your biscuits. I chill my flour.
2. When you are ready to make biscuits. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or cast-iron skillet. 3. Sift (after smoking, there will be lots of small pieces that won’t go through a sifter – throw them out) two cups of flour. I smoke three cups because there is always a little lost to sifting and the need for to dust your work area/board.
3. Add your dry ingredients. Sift.
4. Add your butter. Do not touch it with your hands. Use either dough blades or forks to work it until you have a mixture that resembles ‘coarse meal’ or your flour-covered butter pieces are the size of small peas.
4.5 An explanation as to why we do it this way. If you want flaky biscuits, you want to still have small discernible chunks of unmelted butter when you cut out your biscuits. Making biscuits is much like making a pie dough or pate brisee – the less you work it, the better.
5. Pour your buttermilk into this mixture and work it until it just comes together (preferably with a fork, flat wisk, etc – the heat from your hands will melt that butter in a matter of a minute if you don’t watch what you are doing).
6. Put the dough on your lightly floured workstation and pat it out until you have a half-inch thick rectangle. Fold the ends in to meet in the center and quickly pat to a half-inch thick. Repeat once more. Form a one-inch thick rectangle. (You should be able to see small pieces of butter in your dough)
7. Press a biscuit cutter straight down into your dough. Do not press and twist. You should get 8-10 biscuits without recombining your dough. Recombine your dough and make another couple of biscuits (these won’t be as good).
8. If you want crisp bottoms and soft sides, put one tablespoon of vegetable shortening into the cast-iron skillet and preheat it right to the point that your oil is going to smoke. Roll the oil around the sides of the pan so that it is well-coated and discard any remaining oil. Arrange biscuits and bake in oven for 10-12 minutes.
9. If you want crisp sides, place your biscuits on a baking sheet about an inch apart and bake for 10-12 minutes.
10. If you get to the end of your baking, and your tops aren’t brown enough, change your oven over to broil and place on the top shelf for about a minute to brown further. (keep an eye on them as you can burn them quickly.
11. To reheat (they should disappear during the first sitting even if you are alone – especially if you are alone): five minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.
The secret to a great biscuit, like a pie crust, is all in the handling of the dough. Do not overwork it. Do not overbake it.
The frozen butter and the folding are going to give you the flakiness and layering.
Do not use a rolling pin like you see folks do in the movies. You will overwork your dough and the developed gluten will make your biscuits tough.
This is a purist issue, but press straight down when cutting your biscuits. Again, you are avoiding overworking the dough.
You want a crisp bottom? Make your biscuits by preheating a cast-iron skillet (the same way all good southerners make their cornbread).
Let me know how it worked out for you.
Have questions? Post them here or email me at email@example.com
And, in the comments below: Where did you have the best biscuit of your life and how do you prefer it (butter, jelly, honey, etc.)