Biscuits and the Big Deal about Baking with Buttermilk

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Heidi makes her Next Day Grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits on the kitchen set of WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today

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.

I have biscuits on the brain.

I am a bread baker from way back, I love the smell of yeast,  the therapeutic pleasures that come from kneading and the magic of watching a mass of dough rise to the occasion.

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Heidi Makes her Next Day grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits in a demo at the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tenn. The table was taller than most – haha! – and necessity became the mother of invention. Nothing like cooking while you are standing on an apple crate!!

So when my friends at Southern Biscuit Flour, owned by Renwood Mills in Newton, North Carolina, asked me to represent them in a demo and at the judges table at the festivals biscuit baking competition I was delighted to accept the offer.

But it wasn’t as easy as all that – you see biscuits are a very different animal. As John Craig, the “Biscuit Boss” and the coordinator of Knoxville’s annual BiscuitFest was quoted as saying, “Biscuits are the easiest bread to make and the hardest.”

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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.  Here Knoxville’s Market Street becomes Biscuit Boulevard – the road is blocked off to allow for the foot traffic of thousands of visitors and booths offering biscuits of all shapes and sizes line the curbs and sidewalks.

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.

As it was all such fun, I decided to recreate the recipe, using a host of ingredients from the Carolina’s for my recent appearance on WCNC’s midday shown, Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson.

IMG_2778As 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.

No matter which one you choose, all of the Southern Biscuit Flours are still milled with North Carolina’s own soft winter wheat all harvested from within 50 miles of the town of Newton.  If you select the all purpose flour, then proceed with the recipe exactly as it is written. If you go with the self-rising flour, you may omit any additional leavening, in this case 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!)

In addition to local North Carolina flour, I used local butter from Charlotte NC’s  Uno Alla Volta or Grassfed Productions Rootdown Foods, local baking powder from Caly’s Kitchen in Waxhaw, NC; salt from OuterBanks SeaSalt from the North Carolina coast, 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)

1/2 tsp. OuterBanks SeaSalt

1 Tbsp. Caly’s Kitchen Baking Powder

1 Tbsp, organic sugar

6 Tbsp. COLD Uno Alla Volta or Grassfed Productions/RootDown Foods 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.

IMG_2761Next, (and with thanks to my friend Chef Matthew Krenz for this biscuit baking tip) use a box grater to grate the cold butter in the bowl with the flour. Lots of biscuit recipes just say to cut the butter into small pieces and then work it into the flour until the mix resembles coarse cornmeal, but in doing this you run the risk of warming up the butter too much. One of  the reasons the biscuits rise so beautifully 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 Tips and TricksImportant 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 or any of the ultra Premium extra virgin olive oils at Pour Olive. 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 268226_10151166855156134_1028399043_n 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.

To keep with our theme,  as I was using the Clemson Blue cheese, I thought it would be fun to use  Hickory Hill Milk’s Buttermilk in my biscuit recipe as well. This whole milk buttermilk is not homogenized, so you will want 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.

In the biscuit baking world, too much flour is not your friend. 

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.

IMG_2764To 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 pan, although they work equally well on a baking sheet.  No real reason, to use cast iron, at first I did it because it offered good presentation value; but truth is, it does add a nice golden crust to the outside of the biscuits and 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.

IMG_2762For perfect drop biscuits, use an ice cream scoop to scoop up balls of the batter and place them side by side in the pan. The fact that you use the scoop keeps the size uniform and the fact that you place them side by side helps them to support each other during the baking time, rising 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.

Eat them hot with or without butter.  For “Next Day Biscuits” slice them in half and ‘refresh’ them by placing them on a griddle in a bit of melted butter to grill the cut side to a toasty finish.

Serve them as they are, or top with your favorite local honey. I simply adore the robust sweet mountain sourwood honey from Dancing Bees Honey in Monroe, NC with these slightly salty cheese biscuits. or serve them as a blue cheesey base for a summer BLT.

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

PrintWay 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.   The natural acid left  in the rich sweet milk after the butterfats where removed helped leavening agents to work in baking and the milk was also good to drink

Today no one makes buttermilk like that anymore. In a quick conversation with Watson Dorn of Hickory Hill Milk in South Carolina, I learned the specifics of what I already knew –  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.” Some DYI advice on the internet and home how-to’s in cookbooks 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 and gives it an off or acidic taste.

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 pays off in texture and in taste –  this non-homogenized whole milk buttermilk has the flavor of buttermilk from years gone by.

In fact, to digress from biscuits for a moment,  Dorn shared with me the fact 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#TellThemHeidiSentYou (1)Like all of the products mentioned in this article, Hickory Hill Milk whole milk, buttermilk and chocolate milk are  available in Charlotte. You will find Hickory Hill Milk at Earthfare and 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 and be sure to Save the Date on Wednesday June 7 for Newton Nc Biscuit Day! Come and join in the fun from 8 am till noon, when Southern Biscuit Flour teams up with two other iconic North Carolina brands and will be out on the square in Newton,  serving up with Neese’s Country Sausage Biscuits and pouring rounds of Cheerwine! Entertainment by the Sigmon Stringers – stop by, celebrate biscuits and enjoy!

Caly’s Kitchen baking powder and other delicious gluten free products are available on Saturday mornings at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market,  and at Caly’s Kitchen 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 ( use the code HeidiB20 and get 20% off your purchase) or on Saturday’s in the Charlotte area at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market, the Cotswold Farmers’ Market and the farm store at Grace Roots Farm in Waxhaw on Saturdays,  and at the Selwyn Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons.

Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars are available at Pour Olive, 1528 East Blvd. Charlotte 28203

OuterBanks SeaSalt is available in Charlotte at Fresh Market  and online at obxSeaSalt.com

Uno Alla Volta butter is available along with all of their wonderful fresh made cheeses at the Matthews Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Yorkmont Road on Saturday mornings. During the week there are limited supplies available at both locations of Pasta & Provisions.

Grassfed Productions/RootDown Foods butters and ghee are available on Saturdays at the Noda Farmers’ Market and the Atherton Farmers’ Market and on Wednesday afternoons at the @Selwyn Farmers’ Market. They are also available during the week at the new Carolina Craft Butchery in Davidson, NC.

Clemson Blue Cheese is available in most all of the area Ingles Stores or online at the Clemson Blue Cheese  website.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

For more local and loving it recipes, why not join in the fun at one of Heidi Billotto’s much loved cooking classes. A list of her popular On the Farm and At Home with Heidi cooking classes is posted on these blog pages. Follow the links to make a reservation!

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