Biscuits and the Big Deal about Baking with Buttermilk

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I come to you today on the heels of three days in Knoxville, Tennessee. First at the Southern Food Writing Conference and then at the International Biscuit Festival, all in June of 2017.

When I got home, I had biscuits on the brain.

A bread baker from way back, I love the therapeutic pleasures that come from kneading dough. Plus, it’s fun to watch the magic as a mass of dough rises to the occasion.

Biscuits

Southern Biscuit Flour, owned by Renwood Mills in Newton, North Carolina, asked me to represent them at the festival. It was my pleasure to conduct a cooking demo for the biscuit loving crowd. And, I held a seat at the judges table for the festival’s biscuit baking competition.

Check out this photo from the festival! The table was taller than most – haha! – and necessity became the mother of invention. Nothing like baking biscuits, standing on an apple crate!!

The Challenge of Baking Biscuits

Apple crates aside, baking biscuits isn’t always as easy as all that – you see biscuits are a very different animal.

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After doing my research, I was ready to roll ( subtle pun, intended).  I headed to Knoxville and enjoyed a wonderful three day adventure: two days rubbing elbows, sharing stories and hobnobbing with a fabulous group of Southern food writers it was my pleasure to meet; followed by a day at the annual BiscuitFest celebration.  

I spent a good part of the day talking biscuits and handing out samples of Southern Biscuit Flour’s Formula L, a wonderful all-inclusive biscuit mix that only requires the addition of buttermilk. The Southern Biscuit Flour booth was located just outside the festival’s Biscuit Baking tent,  and when I wasn’t in the booth with the Renwood Mills team, I was in the tent to judge one round of the competition and then to do a demo on behalf of Southern Biscuit Flour.

Once home, I wanted to share a taste of the fun with you. I recreated the recipe, for a 2017 appearance on WCNC’s midday shown, Charlotte Today with then hosts, Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson.

All Local Ingredients Make a Good Biscuit Recipe, Great!

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As always, I try practice the mantra I preach of using local products and with this recipe it was easy. Start with any variety of Southern Biscuit Flour from Newton, NC – all purpose, self rising or their biscuit blend, Formula L will all work well – more on the nuances of working with each in just a few.

All of the Southern Biscuit Flours are milled with North Carolina’s own soft winter wheat.  If you select the all purpose flour, then proceed with the recipe exactly as it is written. Use the self-rising flour and you may omit the baking powder.

If you want to really make it easy, buy Southern Biscuits Formula L. This is a delicious complete biscuit mix and only requires the addition of buttermilk ( and the cheese, of course!)

Easy to keep it local as you make and bake these drop biscuits.

In addition to local North Carolina flour, I used local butter from Charlotte NC’s  Uno Alla Volta ; and then from our friends and farms in South Carolina I featured Hickory Hill Milk whole milk Buttermilk and Clemson Blue Cheese.

Here is a look at the video from my May 31, 2017 appearance at Charlotte Today – the details of the recipe with photos and where-to-buy info on each of the products follows.

Heidi’s Next Day Grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits

2 1/2 cups all purpose Southern Biscuit Flour ( see notes that follow the recipe for using the self-rising flour or the easy-as-pie Formula L)

a pinch of salt

1 Tbsp. organic or GMO free Baking Powder

1 Tbsp, organic sugar

6 Tbsp. COLD Uno Alla Volta butter – keep the butter in one piece for easier grating

1 cup COLD crumbled Clemson Blue Cheese

1 cup Hickory Hill Milk Whole Milk Buttermilk

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Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and then use a whisk to blend them well and remove any lumps or clumps of flour. In the biscuit baking world, lumps and clumps of flour are not your friend.

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Keep it cold

Next, use a box grater to grate the cold butter in the bowl with the flour. Thanks to my friend Chef Matthew Krenz for first sharing this biscuit baking tip with me. Lots of biscuit recipes say, “cut the butter into small pieces. Then, work it into the flour until the mix resembles coarse cornmeal.”

But in doing it this way, you run the risk of overmixing and warming up the butter. One of the reasons biscuits rise, is from the steam released from the cold butter in the batter. In the biscuit baking world, warm butter or fat is not your friend.

Heidi’s Biscuit Baking Tips and Tricks

Heidi's Tips and Tricks

Important to note here that you may use any type of high quality fat in your biscuits – local leaf lard from your favorite pork producer or  local beef tallow from your favorite cattle rancher work equally well.  As does your favorite high quality olive oil.  I like using the rich, golden Kores Estate ultra premium extra virgin olive oil from the Olive Crate. Pour the olive oil into a shallow plastic container and chill until it is firm – really firm – in a solid mass. Grate into the biscuit dough as you would the butter.

Next, add the Clemson Blue Cheese. You may buy this already in crumbles or you can crumble it yourself. The key is to chill it down before you add it to the batter. In the biscuit baking world, cheese is always your friend.

Use a large fork to blend the cheese and butter into the flour slightly breaking up the little pieces. A fork is better than your hands, as a fork won’t heat the batter up and your hands – especially if you have hot hands- will. In the biscuit baking world, keep your cool – until the biscuits are baking, warmth is not your friend.

Finally add the buttermilk

 

For us in Charlotte,  a lot of  South Carolina is as local as much of North Carolina; and so I thought it would be fun to incorporate Clemson Blue Cheese into this recipe. Clemson Blue cheese is made with whole milk from Hickory Hill Milk, a three-generation family-run dairy in Edgerfield, SC. owned by Clemson alum Watson Dorn and his wife Lisa.

As I feature Clemson Blue cheese in this recipe, I thought it would be fun to use  Hickory Hill Milk’s Buttermilk as well. This whole milk buttermilk is not homogenized, so you need to shake it up before you pour.  

Measure and stir the milk into the flour mix. Use  the fork to blend, just until the milk is combined with all the flour. The mix should be sticky.

More Tips and Tricks for delicious biscuits every time

Rolling out biscuits and cutting them with a cutter offers up all sorts of opportunities to over process your dough. You don’t want to add too much flour as you roll or pat out the dough – this will bake into biscuits that may resemble a hockey puck. Likewise, take care if and when you use a biscuit cutter. Don’t twist the cutter back and forth to cut a round out of the dough, just dip the cutter first into a bit of flour – just enough to coat and then cut the biscuit with one quick down and then up motion.

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To all together avoid the problem of kneading in too much flour, I prefer making drop biscuits. and I like to bake then in a cast iron skillet , although they work equally well on a baking sheet.  Aside from a nice homemade look to your finished biscuits, the cast iron adds a nice golden crust to the outside of the biscuits. I personally like that crispy crunch the crust offers. Spray the pan with a bit of cooking spray to lightly coat the pan. Remember, this isn’t cornbread, its biscuits where cold is king; so, no need to heat the pan first.

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For perfect drop biscuits, use an ice cream scoop. Scoop up balls of the batter and place them side by side in the pan. Using the scoop keeps the biscuit size uniform. Placing them side by side helps them to support each other during the baking time. This way the biscuits rise to their full potential.

Before baking, gently dab the top of the biscuits with a bit of melted butter. Bake the biscuits in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Next Day Biscuits are equally as good – maybe better!

Here is how to make my “Next Day Biscuits”. Slice day old biscuits in half. Place them, cut side down, on a buttered cast iron griddle, to grill the cut side to a toasty finish.

Serve them as they are, or top with your favorite local honey.

In the biscuit baking world, Buttermilk is your friend and here is why…

Way back in the day,  “butter milk”  was simply the whey left  after churning the cream into butter. In days before great refrigeration, this original buttermilk had a longer shelf life because the perishable fat solids had been taken out.   A natural acid left in the rich sweet milk after the butterfats where removed, helped leavening agents to work better in baked goods. This buttermilk was also good to drink.

No one makes buttermilk like that anymore. I spoke with Watson Dorn of Hickory Hill Milk, and learned the specifics of what I already knew to be true. All buttermilk is not equal.

Most large commercial dairy’s today use low fat or skim milk to make buttermilk. But, as Dorn says, ” the fat is where the flavor is.”

DYI advice on the internet suggest simply adding lemon juice or vinegar to whole or skim milk, to make your own buttermilk. But, I am telling you, don’t do it!

While it will still works for baking, adding the acid this way  only serves to sour the sweet milk. The flavor result is an off or acidic taste that doesn’t do your biscuits any favors.

True Buttermilk Takes Time

 The milk at Dorn’s family-owned dairy is pasteurized as is required by law; but its not homogenized, so cream rises to the top, believe me, this milk is full of flavor.

To make the Hickory Hill Milk buttermilk, Dorn starts with his dairy’s cream top whole milk and adds a specific culture. The enzymes in the culture begin to slowly add acidity to the whole milk, but do not compromise the rich creamy flavor.  Dorn allows the process a full 18 hours to make the buttermilk magic happen. Most other dairy’s hurry it up only allowing 6-10 hours.

The time and effort Dorn and his team put into the Hickory Hill Milk buttermilk pay off in texture and in taste.  This non-homogenized whole milk buttermilk has the flavor of buttermilk from years gone by.

In fact, Dorn shared that in South Carolina, Hickory Hill Milk sells a lot of buttermilk to retirement communities. The elderly dealing with memory loss and sometimes dementia often are no longer interested in eating. Its a sad problem and it is hard for the staff to get them the proper nutrition they need.

Recently nutritionists were pleased to report to Dorn that in serving Hickory Hill Milk buttermilk to residents, the taste seemed to spark a food memory of  the biscuits, the cornbread and buttermilk from their childhoods. These patients found a comfort in the flavor they somehow where able to remember from many years gone by. Testimony to the fact that eating (and drinking) local brings with it good memories and is the healthiest and happiest way to go!

Where to find it

Where to Find it#TellThemHeidiSentYou (1)

all of the products mentioned in this article are  available in Charlotte NC. Several are also availble to order online for home delivery.

You will find Hickory Hill Milk in Charlotte at Earthfare and sometimes at Whole Foods. For more info visit  them on Facebook

In Charlotte. Southern Biscuit Flours are most readily available at Harris Teeter, and often at Food Lion and Walmart.    For more info visit them at the Renwood Mills website .

The Olive Crate’s Kores Estate Ultra Premium Extra Virgin olive oil and all of their fine organic Greek balsamic vinegars are available online . In Charlotte NC, you can also shop with them at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Yorkmont Road.

Buy Uno Alla Volta butter at the Matthews Farmers’ Market or the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. During the week, there are limited supplies available at all locations of Pasta & Provisions.

Clemson Blue Cheese is available in most North Carolina Ingles Stores; or online at the Clemson Blue Cheese  website.

10 comments

    1. Great to hear from you Janice! So glad you enjoyed the post- Next year you guys have to make plans to attend the festival and enter the biscuit baking contest – no big prize money, but its a ton of fun!! Miss seeing you! Cheers!

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