Southern biscuit production requires adherence to two strict rules:
Rule # 1
As bakers in Georgia, Louisiana, or the Carolinas will tell you, you need White Lily Flour. This is not a secret; it is a fact. White Lily Flour is a 135-year-old regional brand made from 100% soft red winter wheat (as opposed to the hard red winter wheat often used in other all-purpose flour brands and blends.) It is locally sourced, no GMO’s. It is softer than cotton or white beach sand or even dogwood petals.
Here’s White Lily’s recipe, which calls for Crisco (an unhealthy trans fat but oh well) and makes an especially soft white biscuit, and you can easily substitute Spectrum Shortening from the health food store (not an unhealthy trans fat).
Do not overwork that dough! Julia Child speaks lovingly of “the light biscuit hand” and means simply this: do not overmix the dough; do not blend all the butter in until it is smooth; do not create extra gluten; do not ruin that dough with a heavy biscuit hand! You can make them in an electric mixer, but use the paddle attachment, and mix them only for a few seconds. The dough moves from crumbly to barely-together with lots of butter chunks, and that is all you need to achieve. One expert in the biscuit business is Virginia Willis, a chef and cookbook author trained in French traditions and deeply rooted in Georgia’s southern cuisine. My recipe for Buttermilk Biscuits is informed by hers, and we were likely both influenced by Le Cordon Bleu’s. Her book, Bon Appetit, Y’All was given to me by my friend Erica, another native Georgian, who assures me these recipes are the food of her people. To get Willis’s tangy, crumbly buttermilk biscuit recipe and a few variations, click here.
The lure of the southern biscuit is nothing new. In Latin, the word biscuit means “twice-baked”, and Roman soldiers carried a variation of the biscuit (baked a second time for extra durability) in their packs. The word further mutates to mean a cracker in England and a cookie in France. The appeal of the American southern biscuit (which is as a breakfast roll, a sausage-gravy-soaker, a side for gulf-shore oysters, and a billowy home base for strawberries, peaches and vanilla-whipped cream) reaches across the continent. My friend and co-author on Hand-Crafted Candy Bars, Susan Heeger, takes biscuits seriously in her California home, surrounded by note-worthy gardens, which dangle fruit and sprout vivid vegetables. Biscuits come up in her book with Jimmy Williams, From Seed to Skillet, where the Gullah influence of South Carolina dominates. Don’t miss her Sweet Potato Biscuits recipe!
Finally, Atlanta’s bustling mid-town neighborhood hosts long lines of those who come to biscuit-worship at The Flying Biscuit Cafe. Theirs are fluffy, light, soft, and creamy-white. To perfect your biscuit hand, follow Rules 1 & 2 & bake often. But when in Atlanta, they will do it for you.
The Flying Biscuit’s Famous Flying Biscuits
- 3 cups all purpose flour (a soft winter wheat flour, like White Lily, is best)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 cup half and half for brushing on top of biscuits
- 1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling on top of biscuits
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Place flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut butter into ½ tablespoon-sized-bits and add to the flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in all the heavy cream and the half and half.
Stir the dry ingredients into the cream and mix with a wooden spoon until dough just begins to come together into a ball. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times to form a cohesive mass. Do not overwork the dough.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1-inch thickness. The correct thickness is the key to obtaining a stately biscuit.
Dip a 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter in flour, then cut the dough. Repeat until all the dough has been cut. Scraps can be gathered together and re- rolled one more time.
Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet pan, leaving about ¼ inch between them.
Brush the tops of the biscuits with 1 tablespoon of half and half and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes. Biscuits will be lightly browned on top and flaky in the center when done.
Makes 8 to 12 biscuits, depending on the size of the cutter.
-Recipe courtesy of ATL PBS and Flying Biscuit Cafe.
A few more photos of southern delicacies from New Orleans, Atlanta’s Alon’s Market & The Dogwood Festival, and the Carolinas: