As difficult as it may be for Knoxvillians to believe it, May, the month of the International Biscuit Festival, isn’t National Biscuit Month. That honor belongs to September. Of course, real biscuit lovers celebrate on a daily basis, and I’m not sure that the official observance attracts much attention – it doesn’t seem to come with any days off or other perks like other holidays do. Still, it’s worth taking some time to ponder the biscuit, especially this year when we’re already feeling the breezes of autumn and the nostalgia that those winds sometimes bring.
Biscuits come with memories and stories full of mothers, grandmothers, early mornings, and big family breakfasts. After all, it shows a special kind of love to get up early to mix flour into dough and fill the house with that most comforting of wake-up calls, the smell of biscuits in the oven. For me, every biscuit brings a smile because it recalls a favorite family story about a boy named Virgil, who, in his latter days, was also known as Papaw Mynatt.
Little Virgil loved biscuits, especially the particularly fine and well-buttered examples baked by his family’s neighbor, Lucille. She was a kind lady with several children of her own to feed, and, even though it was the Great Depression and times were tough, she always had an extra biscuit.
Virgil’s mother, Maggie, however, took some exception to his biscuit foraging. Perhaps she thought it reflected poorly on her own domestic skill, or that it made Lucille think that Virgil wasn’t getting enough to eat at home. So, mother Maggie forbade him from asking that woman for another biscuit. Virgil obliged. Instead he was soon to be found in the neighbor’s yard, strolling casually by the kitchen window singing a song of his own composition: “I just love them butter biscuits”.
Even as his mother did NOT spare the rod, Virgil protested his innocence; he never asked for that biscuit – it just came his way.
The moral of the story, I suppose, is that a good biscuit is worth the risk of a good spanking. And, more importantly, a good biscuit recipe is worth having; it will endear you to good eaters (and some young songsters, too).
Of course, biscuits mean different things to different people, and nowadays biscuits come in all sorts of styles and flavors. But a few years ago, Mahasti decided that she wanted to find the best biscuit recipe – the one that would produce the most consistent and tastiest results with the least amount of fuss. After asking the public for their favorites, Mahasti worked through dozens of recipes. What she found was that the best biscuit was a simple, traditional method using buttermilk and cold butter.
Buttermilk is essential in this recipe because its acidic personality works to soften the villainous gluten which can toughen your dough. Buttermilk helps keep everything tender. Likewise, using chilled butter will make a fluffier biscuit – the butter melts in the oven and produces steam which gives our beloved bread a luscious lift.
In honor of National Biscuit Month, we dug up that recipe so you can celebrate in style.
If you’ve never tried baking your own, now’s as a good a time as any. Just promise us that you’ll try, at least for Biscuit Month, to steer clear of biscuits that come out of a can – you know how we feel about that.
The Best Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp chilled butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup chilled buttermilk
Measure flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a medium bowl. Add chilled butter and work into flour with fingertips or a pastry cutter until the butter resembles small beads. Add buttermilk and work flour into buttermilk until you have a soft dough. Turn dough no more than 10 times.
Gather into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1 inch. Either trim the edges and use a knife cut the biscuits into squares or use a traditional round biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits. Gather up any remaining dough into a ball and repeat flattening and cutting the biscuits.
Place the cut biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet (placing the biscuits in the freezer at this point for 30 minutes will yield a fluffier biscuit). Bake in a 425 degree oven for 8 – 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes 6-8 biscuits depending on the size of your cutter.