Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Truth About Buttermilk... oh, and my personal biscuit recipe

What a strange title for a baking blog entry.  Well, perhaps I should have written that it's MY truth.  Well, I found it out on my own, and then in sharing it with others found out that lots of bakers already practice this and wondered why more don't speak about it.  

Can you see the dates on these bottles?  I used the January 26 bottle just last week and opened the February 11 bottle this morning.  Yes, it is May 13 as I am publishing this post.  I promise you, buttermilk is not really tasting like buttermilk until it has gone past it's sell by date.  Isn't that crazy?  

My memere, who lived in the same town I did when I was growing up, was a great cook and baker, but I don't remember her ever using buttermilk.  Certainly none of the recipes I have from her used it.  On the other hand, my grandma who lived on the rural edge of a suburban town in New York, came from Georgia and she used buttermilk in her recipes.  I remember what it used to taste like and was very surprised when I was a young adult and couldn't find buttermilk that tasted like Grandma's.  Well, I think she might have been getting it from a local dairy that actually made butter and had buttermilk to sell.  That's not what we get to buy in the grocery stores these days even though I now live in Georgia.  What we get is cultured milk.  Oh, it's a little thicker than what sweet milk drinkers are used to but it does not smell or taste like buttermilk, not really.  Well, yes, it will, just not the day you buy it.  Seriously.  Go buy a bottle, put it in your fridge and wait a month.  Then buy another bottle and hold them side by each.  The bottle that has been sitting in your fridge will separate (assuming you have a transparent bottle to observe this change) and when you open it, it will smell like buttermilk should  smell, tastes like it should taste and I promise you, it gives GREAT flavor to your baked goods.  In all the years I've been aging my own buttermilk I have had exactly ONE bottle go bad before I used it in total.  Depending on what I'm doing, I've had buttermilk sit for 3-4 months.  How did I know it went bad?  Um, there was green stuff growing in it and it didn't smell like buttermilk.  Honestly, even an open bottle is good, so if you make my biscuits and have outdated buttermilk leftover, don't worry about it, put the cap on and put it back in the fridge.  On the other hand you might need to make another batch of biscuits tomorrow because these won't last!

Now let me confess, my biscuit recipe is essentially the recipe that is on the bag of White Lily Flour, but I had the recipe in my box, copied from a grandma who also used White Lily until she moved to New York and couldn't get it anymore.  It makes me wonder if White Lily was publishing it's recipe on flour sacks of the 1930's?  Somehow I don't think so.  On the other hand, I will say the grandma recipe was not written as recipes are written today with amounts of ingredients (carefully measured, LOL) and then instructions.  It was more of a technique note written for me.  I'm giving you what works today.  

Pixie's Biscuits (Who knew Pixie was in love with a White Lily?)

2 cups of White Lily Self-Rising Flour (or see the note below)
1/4 cup of Crisco (grandma used lard, bacon grease or butter, I use butter flavored Crisco)
2/3 to 3/4 cup of buttermilk

Heat your oven to 500 F
Measure the flour into a bowl, cut up your shortening (yes I buy the sticks) and toss it in the flour, then using your hands began working it in, you could use what is called a pastry knife but I promise, this goes easier with your hand and if you work quickly the shortening will not melt and if you're at all nervous about it when you're done, put it in the fridge for 15 minutes.  Now here comes the difficult part, add 2/3 cup of buttermilk and stir.  I like to use a spoon for this stirring, but grandma continued to use her hands.  If it seems stiff add more milk.  This will vary day to day based on things like humidity and the thickness of your buttermilk.  (The older it is, the thicker the buttermilk gets.)  You just want to be able to get this all together and then lightly dust your counter with flour, turn out the dough and pat it out.  Some recipes I read say you should go to 1/2" thick but I like thick biscuits. I pat mine out to 3/4"-1" unless I'm making mini-biscuits.  There are some truths to be considered here.  If you want to separate your biscuits and let them get crispy on the sides as well as the top and bottom you'd better use a circle cutter.  It could be a glass from your cabinet if you don't have a biscuit cutter.  On the other hand, if you want to lay them close together so they will rise higher you could do a square and cut once and be done.  This time I made very large circles, almost 3".  You gather up the scraps when you're done cutting, and push them together as gently as possible making them another batch to be cut through.  You'll find the more you handle your dough the difference in how the biscuit turns out.  I can tell biscuits from the first cut and those from the third cut after baking.   

Places these on a baking sheet, either separated or almost touching together depending on how you want them to rise.  Place in the oven for about 10 minutes, perhaps a little more if you're baking them together.  When they are done they should be lightly brown on the top.  Yes, really, that's all you have to see.  

NOTE:  If for some reason you don't have self-rising flour simply make your own.  Use the softest flour you can find but I promise you I have made biscuits with King Arthur flour and they get eaten up, too.  

Self-Rising Flour

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder

Whisk these together and you're ready to make biscuits! 

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