How to Make Biscuits: Baking Secrets and Five Recipes Friday, Aug 19 2011 

What’s The Secret to a Perfect Biscuit?

I’ve been asked quite a bit about biscuits these past few months.

Folks pull me aside at book-signings. As I am spending the summer in New England, random folks hear my accent and ask about Southern biscuits. People reach out on Twitter and Facebook. I also get at least a couple emails a week asking about how to make biscuits.

This week it was a plea for a lost recipe, ” They were very light and fluffy, think she used lard and cut the biscuits out and let the dough rest while we went to church. The bread and biscuits were better than any bread or biscuits I have ever tasted.”

I love biscuits and I am not alone.

I have a fantasy of opening a street-front, window only walk-up restaurant in NYC and sell nothing but biscuits and grits. It’s not that I think that there are that many displaced Southerners in NYC. No, not at all. It’s that everyone loves biscuits. Those folks may think they like bagels, but in my opinion, they just haven’t met the right biscuit.

There’s no doubt in my mind that nothing says comfort like a fluffy, buttery biscuit.

No, I am not talking about those obscenely large and layered monstrosities that the fast food places sell. Or those bizarrely soft and spongy cans of biscuit dough that have a shelf life of 6 months!? Those kind of biscuits only exist because of chemical manipulation and ingredients that end in letters like “-ceride” and “-pylene.”

I am talking about flour, fat, liquid, leavener, and salt.

A few weeks ago I gave an impromptu biscuit making class. We made biscuits side by side with two kinds of flours. In the photograph below, Gold Medal All Purpose flour is on the left, and White Lily All Purpose flour on the right. See the difference?

Secrets of Southern Flour

Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When you combine flour with water, the proteins create a strong and elastic sheet called gluten. Flours vary in their protein levels, which affects the texture of baked goods. Gluten gives structure to yeast breads, but is not recommended for tender cakes, biscuits, and quick breads. Southern all-purpose flour is milled from soft red winter wheat that has less gluten-forming protein. It is typically bleached, which makes it whiter, but this does not affect the protein. My family has always used White Lily flour, a staple across the South; another dependable Southern brand is Martha White.

Most national brands of all-purpose flour are a combination of soft winter wheat and higher-protein hard summer wheat. White Lily contains approximately nine grams of protein per cup of flour, whereas national brands can contain eleven or twelve grams of protein per cup of flour. If you live outside the South, White Lily is available online or in some specialty shops in other parts of the country.

For results similar to those of Southern flour, substitute one part all-purpose flour and one part cake flour for the amount of Southern flour in a recipe. Finally, high-protein flour absorbs more liquid than does low-protein flour; if you attempt to make biscuits with a high-protein flour, you will need to add more liquid.

Want to know more?

Want to know just how easy it is to make mouth-watering, buttery biscuits?

Want to know how to have hot, fresh, homemade bread on the table in minutes?

Want to perhaps find your lost recipe?

Well, I’ve got the book for you.

My friend and mentor Nathalie Dupree has just released a new book called Southern Biscuits she co-wrote with Cynthia Grauburt.

It’s The Book on How to Make a Biscuit. Period.

It’s the definitive biscuit book with recipes and secrets to creating every style of biscuit imaginable.

It’s filled with amazing photographs including dozens of how-to photos showing how to mix, stir, fold, roll, and knead.

It also explains what ingredients to use and how the type of flour, fat, and liquid affects the end result; how to cut, hand-shape, or scoop the dough; time and temperature.

Like I said, it’s How to Make Biscuits. Period.

Before you get your copy of the book, I’ll leave you with a few recipes and tips on making biscuits. (And, after all, remember, after Meme and Mama, Nathalie first taught me, too.)

Tips and Techniques on Making Biscuits

  • Chill the bowl used to mix the dough as well as the pastry blender to prevent the butter or shortening from warming up.
  • Cut the butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Cold bits of butter or fat will melt during baking, creating pockets of steam that give biscuits their flakiness.
  • When working with butter, cut it into small pieces, and chill again before adding to dry ingredients.
  • Dip the cutter in flour. Cut the biscuits smoothly and cleanly straight down without twisting. Twisting can seal the dough and prevent the rise.
  • As Nathalie used to tell me, “Get your hot little hands off that dough.” Handle the dough as little as possible. You don’t want to make the biscuits tough by overworking, and you want the fat to stay cold until the biscuits bake.
  • A very hot oven is essential. The steam interacts with the baking powder to create the biscuit’s ideal textures inside and out.
  • The perfect biscuit should be golden brown and slightly crisp on the outside, with a light, airy interior. For a flaky, tender biscuit, don’t overwork the dough: gently combine the ingredients until just blended.

I hope you enjoy this collection of recipes. Keep me posted on what you’re doing – both success and failure stories. Shoot me a comment or email. I’m happy to try to help.

Lastly, a couple of things to share since I am marrying my newsletter and blog. I’ve decided I should call this “Mama’s Reading List!” This week I was interviewed for USA Today about Georgia peaches and Roberta and Lois from Kosher Eye called to chat about Southern Food. And, please check out Lisa is Cooking to see what’s on my bedside table.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS The recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits is a sneak peek at Basic to Brilliant, Y’all .(Shh, don’t tell!)

Meme’s Biscuits

Makes about 9 biscuits

Meme most often made rolled biscuits. For large biscuits, she had a special aluminum cutter with a small wooden handle that fit in the palm of her hand. She cut out small biscuits with an empty apple juice can open at both ends. Some purists use lard instead of butter. Although I like biscuits made with lard and understand the tradition and history, Meme and Mama had started using butter by the time I was born.

2 cups White Lily or other Southern all-purpose flour, or cake flour (not self-rising), more for rolling out
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 500°F. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk, and gently mix until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly, using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat 8 or so times. (It’s not yeast bread; you want to just barely activate the gluten, not overwork it.) Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 21/4-inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked.

Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet or in an 8- by 2-inch round cake pan. If the biscuits are baked close together the sides will be moist. If the biscuits are baked further apart, the sides will be crisp.

Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool just slightly. Serve warm.

variation: If I don’t feel like rolling out biscuits, or just want a different texture, I tweak the recipe by adding more buttermilk to the dough and make drop biscuits: use 3 cups of flour—2 for the dough and 1 cup placed in a bowl to shape the dough into biscuits. Increase the buttermilk to 2 cups. The dough will be very wet and resemble cottage cheese. To form the biscuits into balls, scoop up some dough with a large ice cream scoop; place the dough balls in the bowl with the 1 cup of flour. Working one at a time, roll the balls to coat in flour, then set in an ungreased 8- by 2-inch round cake pan. The baking time will be the same as for cut biscuits.

Sneak Peek Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 16

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup low-fat or whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400°F.Bake or microwave the sweet potatoes until soft and tender, about 45 minutes in the oven or about 10 minutes in the microwave. Set aside to cool.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to touch, peel and mash until smooth in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or with an old-fashioned potato masher. Measure out 1 cup and reserve the rest for another use.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper. Set aside. In the same bowl of the food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine the sweet potato and milk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the potato mixture to the flour mixture, pulsing just until moist.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly four or five times. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 10 biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter, pressing the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Gather together the scraps (by placing the pieces on top of one another in layers instead of bunching it up). Roll out 3/4 inch thick. Cut with the biscuit cutter into 5 or 6 more biscuits. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Discard any remaining scraps.

Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nathalie’s Yogurt Biscuits

Makes 12 (2-inch) biscuits

Yogurt makes a very light, tangy biscuit. With homemade or commercial self-rising flour, it is a simple matter. Yogurt varies in consistency, from the thick cream-topped to the thinner generic brands, so it is always a judgment call as to how much to use to make a wet dough. Do not be tempted to use nonfat or light yogurt as they have additives that will change the nature of the biscuit. But if the yogurt is so thick you can’t incorporate it, feel free to add a bit of milk or buttermilk. These crisp biscuits triple in size and cut easily.

2 1⁄4 cups self-rising flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, divided
Softened butter, for brushing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, select an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or oven-proof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.

Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of flour and the salt in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1⁄4 cup of flour. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 2⁄3 cup of yogurt into the hollow, reserving the 1⁄3 cup yogurt, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the yogurt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 tablespoons of reserved yogurt, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat dough out into a 1⁄3- to 1⁄2-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a 1⁄2-inch thick round for a normal biscuit, 3⁄4-inch-thick for a tall

biscuit, and 1-inch-thick for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter.

The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits. Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.

Senator Holling’s Carolina Biscuits

Makes 20 (1-inch) biscuits

According to Nathalie, U.S. Senator “Fritz” Hollings, one of the truly great raconteurs of the twentieth century, posted this recipe on his website. Also called Carolina Biscuits by some, they are the kind of Southern hors d’oeuvre greedily eaten as opposed to nibbling while standing around drinking and telling stories. Without a doubt the flakiest and richest of all the biscuits we’ve made, these tiny

bites melt in the mouth, need no embellishment, and can be served unadorned, warm out of the oven or at room temperature. As someone said, “I can’t believe how good these are.”

There is no sense doing this by hand when a food processor is available, making it easy and stress-free.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2⁄3 cup butter, softened
1 cup self-rising flour, divided
Softened butter, for brushing

Pulse together the cream cheese, 2⁄3 cup of butter, and 1 cup of the flour two or three times in a food processor fitted with the knife or dough blade. Turn the dough out onto waxed paper and divide into two rounds. Wrap in waxed paper, plastic wrap, or a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. With floured hands and a floured rolling pin, roll out one portion of the dough at a time to approximately 1⁄2 inch thick. For each biscuit, dip a 1- to 1 1⁄4-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.

Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to an ungreased baking sheet, placing the biscuits 1 inch apart. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 12 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning.

Continue baking another 4 to 6 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, lightly brush the tops with melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up. These biscuits may be frozen, unbaked or baked, and reheated.

Nathalie’s Overnight Biscuit, Sausage, and Apple Casserole

Serves 8

Sausage and apple is one of my favorite food combinations, and I find ways to cook it into everything from quiches to this soufflé-like casserole, great for a brunch or long weekend.

2 pounds bulk sausage
2 tart apples, cored and sliced
6 cups torn or cut biscuits in 1⁄2-inch pieces
9 large eggs, beaten
3⁄4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1⁄2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the sausage in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks, and drain on a paper towel. Reserve the fat and let the sausage cool. Sauté the apples in the reserved fat, remove from pan, and let cool.

Move the biscuit pieces to a large resealable plastic bag. Whisk together the eggs, mustard, cheese, and milk in a large bowl. Stir in the sausage and apples. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the plastic bag. Place the bag inside another resealable plastic bag with the zipper facing another direction in order to prevent leaks. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight or up to 2 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour mixture into a buttered 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish or divide between two 1 1⁄2-quart casseroles. Bake covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes until eggs are set and the center measures 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Southern Biscuit © 2011 Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Stevens Graubart. Photographs © 2011 Rick McKee

Sneak Peak Sweet Potato Biscuits – Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company (Ten Speed Press 2011)

photos for Meme’s Biscuits and Sweet Potato Biscuits are by me.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Summer Sunflower Celebration & Mustard Crusted Pork Loin Friday, Aug 14 2009 

Sunflower at Persimmon Creek

After the maelstrom of controversy my last post created about Julia/Julie and food writing, I think perhaps this week I need to go with soft, warm, and fuzzy. Something along the lines of sunflowers, baby lambs, and harvesting mint from a crystal clear burbling mountain stream.

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I still stand by what I wrote. It certainly stirred the proverbial pot. I was quoted, well really, I was misquoted, but (mis)quoted alongside Laura Shapiro and Judith Jones. If my grapes were as sour as some of those folks were suggesting over on gawker.com I would be able to talk my mouth would be so puckered. It was a pretty enlightening experience. But, let’s move forward.

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I was recently a guest chef at Persimmon Creek Winery in North Georgia owned by Sonny and Mary Ann Hardman. The setting is just beautiful. It was my sister’s birthday so she and my mother joined me for the weekend. They’ve recently built some beautiful cottages so one can stay on the property. We had a lovely time in the Sassafras cottage. To be clear, this was no rustic mountain cabin. The cottages are beautiful. The attention to detail was impressive. Sub zero fridge, gas stove, wine cooler (of course). The bathrooms are over the top, spa-like – the kind that makes you want to linger in the tub all day….. but I digress.

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When we arrived late afternoon on Friday, Mary Ann took us around the farm and vineyard. There are huge patches of sunflowers, heirloom corn, pumpkins for fall, and herds of dairy sheep. And, I think Mary Ann pretty much has her hands in most of it. She is one busy woman. While we were herding the sheep for milking – yes, she does that, too — she described her day. Mama, incredulous, finally asked her, “When do you sleep?”

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Then, I had a sheep milking education session. It’s not so easy. First, the ewe is positioned on the milking stand and her head is secured between two wooden bars. Mary Ann put a couple of scoops of food in the bowl. There’s a whole rhythmic movement that starts with grabbing the udder, pushing up, and the fanning your fingers and pulling down. I struggle with rhythm at the best of times, much less when confronted by the hind end of a sheep in a hot barn in July in Georgia. (I will say this – the barn is clean – no take-your-breath-away animal odors.)
Mary Ann says her hands are too small to milk two teats at once. I have serious, thick, working chefgirl hands and still couldn’t manage to get two going at once. But, I did have some success and it was very satisfying. A whole scant 3/4 cup of satisfaction.

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Saturday morning mama and I tromped around taking pictures before I had to start prepping and the sun rose too high. I like taking photos in the morning before the light is so harsh. The dew was still on the grapevines, the sunflowers were holding their heads high, and the bees were busily buzzing about. It was really glorious. We ran into Mary Ann who was herding the sheep for milking. I passed this time. I didn’t want to ruin my milkmaid memory with a poor sophomoric effort.

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Mary Ann had mentioned the creek flowed through the national forest before it coursed through their property and was clean enough to drink. Those of y’all that know me well know that I had to get in there to taste that cold mountain water. The minute she told me I knew I would. It was crystal clear, sparkling and beautiful. I tromped down the creekbank and was overcome with the scent of crushed mint. I see there was wild mint growing on the creek bank. I harvested some for dinner that night. Large dark evergreen sprigs with dark, almost purple stems.

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That experience triggered a thought. While Mama and I were walking around I also noticed purslane. Purslane is pretty much treated like a weed in the US, but it was grown as a garden lettuce at the potager for LaVarenne where I worked in France. Purslane is a low growing succulent herb. I also had noticed tangy wild sorrel growing on the slope near the house, as well. Now, I am not one of those foraging types that could survive in the wilderness with a pocket knife and a shard of broken glass to start a fire. (See cottage reference above for preferred lodging in the woods.) But, I was like a kid in the candy store foraging for herbs. It was beautiful. All the ingredients for the dinner came from the farm or from North Georgia.

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A few hours later, I was joined by my friend and colleague Joy Crump who drove up from Atlanta to help me for the day. Mid-afternoon Tasia Malakasis of Belle Chevre, an artisan goat cheese made in Alabama showed with a cooler of her amazing cheeses. It was a great, great day.

Here’s the menu.

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Wild Herb Salad tossed with Apple Cider Vinaigrette and topped with Panko-Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes and a disk of Tasia’s Montrachet goat cheese.

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Mustard Crusted Pork Loin on a Bed of Honey Roasted Vidalia Onions with Heirloom Vegetable Succotash

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Heirloom Stoneground Cornbread with Bacon

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Sheep’s Milk Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote and topped with a Hearty Sprig of Persimmon Creek Mint

Bon Appetit, Y’all!

VA

Mustard-crusted Pork Loin with Herb Pan Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 (3-pound) boneless center-cut pork loin
1/2 cup yellow mustard seed
1/2 cup brown mustard seed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil (optional)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
11/2 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (optional)

To season the pork loin, combine the garlic, bay leaf, mustard, and thyme in a large bowl or sealable plastic bag. Add the meat and turn to coat evenly. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to overnight, turning the pork occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the mustard seeds on a baking sheet. Remove the meat from the bowl, season it with salt and pepper, and roll it in the mustard seed to coat evenly. Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 140° to 145°F, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pork will be slightly pink in the center (this is desirable).

Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a warm platter; cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute (the internal temperature of the roast will rise to 150°F from carryover cooking).

Remove all but a couple of tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place the pan on the cooktop over medium heat. (If there is no fat, add 2 tablespoons of canola oil.) Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits.

Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, an additional 5 minutes. Thinly slice the pork and transfer to a warmed serving platter. Pour any accumulated pork juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan and stir to combine; decrease the heat to medium. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. To finish the sauce with butter, remove the skillet from the heat. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the pork slices; serve immediately.

VIRGINIA WILLIS CULINARY PRODUCTIONS, LLC © 2009

Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

SWEET GEORGIA PEACHES Thursday, Jun 11 2009 

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Central and South Georgia are well known for its peach crops in the summer and pecan harvests in the fall. I grew up in Macon County, adjacent to Peach County, home to The Big Peach, a 75′ tall peach mounted on a 100′ tall pole. Peaches are serious in Georgia.

Each summer the women of my family would make “put up peaches”. We’d can peaches, freeze peaches, and make peach jelly. You have never been hot until you have been picking peaches in the middle of a Georgia summer. Rumor has it that hell is cooler. The air is thick and stifling. Gnats and mosquitoes buzz about incessantly. Peach fuzz covers your arms and wrists. The combination of sweat, bug spray, and itchy peach fuzz is an effective blend for guaranteed misery. But, the end result is that each amber spoonful is more precious than gold.

Ripe peaches are soft to the touch. When cut, look for creamy gold to yellow flesh. The red or blush color on the skin is actually a characteristic of the variety, not ripeness. Avoid green or shriveled peaches. Use your nose! Choose peaches with a typical “peachy” scent, slightly sweet and flowery. Never squeeze peaches, as they will bruise. If your peach purchase needs ripening, set them in a single layer on the counter, not stacked, and allow them to ripen for a day or so at room temperature. Once ripe, transfer them to the refrigerator and use within a week.

Georgia produces over 130 million pounds of peaches a year. Some states may grow more, but Georgia is undoubtedly known as “The Peach State”, the result of the efforts of a farmer in Marshallville, Georgia, who bred the Elberta peach from the seed of a Chinese Cling peach in the late 1800s. The peach industry took off, Georgia was tagged with the flavorful nickname, and the rest is sweet history.

Just down the road from Marshallville is home to Al and Mary Pearson. The Pearson family has farmed peaches around Fort Valley, since the late 1800s and pecans, since the early 1900s. Al and Mary, recently joined by their son, 5th generation farmer, Lawton, have survived the tough business of farming by reinventing the family farm. Big Six Farm is the “growing” arm of the company, jointly owned by the Al and his sisters. Pearson Farm, which Al and Mary operate together, is the retail arm, selling both Big Six’s raw produce and products made from it.

According to Al, “Peach season starts for us around May 15 with the variety Flavorich, a clingstone peach and we ship through August with Big Red, a large freestone.” With clingstone peaches, as the name implies, the flesh clings to the stone while freestone peaches can be loosened from the pit with relative ease. Al continued, “In a good year one tree will produce between 100 and 150 pounds per tree. One acre of peach trees will produce 12,500-15,000 pounds.” (In light of Al’s statistics I don’t feel quite so bad about the few bushels I had a pick as a child!)

Peaches are packed with natural goodness. Several major nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and potassium are packed into each peach. Peaches are also a good source of the pigment beta-carotene, which gives them their deep yellow color. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

They’re also an excellent and filling source of fiber. And, a plus for calorie counters, a peach contains less than 60 calories. In addition to being low-calorie, like all fruits and vegetables, peaches are cholesterol-free and contain no fat or protein. Peaches also provide natural plant compounds called flavonoids, powerful antioxidants, which research suggests may help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Typical Southern recipes do not often take advantage of the healthful aspects of peaches. They are more often along the lines of Peach Ice Cream laced with eggs and heavy cream, Fried Peach Pies, deep-fried half-moons of biscuit dough filled with sugar and chopped peaches, and buttery Peach Cobber, baked in a cast iron skillet.

Here’s one that marries the taste of those sweet peaches with pork, a marriage made in heaven!

Bon Appetit, Y’all!
VA

BROWN SUGAR PORK CHOPS WITH GEORGIA PEACH BBQ SAUCE
Serves 4

1/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
3 cups ice cubes
4 bone-in pork loin chops, (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 one-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 ½ cups ketchup
½ cup Georgia Peach jam
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In medium heatproof bowl, dissolve salt and sugar in boiling water, stir in ice cubes to cool. Add the pork chops, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate to marinate, about 30 minutes. Remove from brine, rinse well, and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Using a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 45 to 60 seconds.

Add the ketchup, peach jam, and peaches. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, set aside to cool.

Pour half the barbecue sauce into a shallow baking dish, reserve remaining sauce. Add pork chops, turning to coat both sides.

Prepare a medium-hot grill or grill pan. Grill chops until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, basting chops with barbecue sauce. Remove from grill, let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with remaining sauce.

PHOTO CREDIT: ELLEN SILVERMAN

VIRGINIA WILLIS CULINARY PRODUCTIONS, LLC © 2009

Sugah Bear, How ‘Bout Some Brown Sugar Shortcakes? Monday, Jun 1 2009 

 

Brown Sugah Shortcakes

Brown Sugah Shortcakes Photo Credit: Kim Jameson

The word “sugar” often becomes “sugah” in the South. The dropping of the r, really pretty unnecessary letter it seems to many. Sugah isn’t just sugar, it’s “Sugah Bear” to a loved one. I recently called my sister that and she questioned my sanity. “Sugah, how ’bout some more coffee” from the waitress with the closer the hair the closer to G*d hairdo. “Come give me some Sugah” meaning a not so favorite smoochy kiss from and aunt or uncle. “Sugah Bowl” is the SEC football game held at the Superdome, and of course, as a graduate from the University of Georgia, aka UGA, “You can’t spell Sugah without UGA” is still a popular bumpersticker.

Sugah and the Southern sweet tooth is a powerful force. It is more than an ingredient in the South. It falls somewhere between condiment and food group. We have desserts at birthday parties, holidays, and special occasions. Mamas calm crying babies with sugar. (Mama dipped my sister’s pacifier in yes, Karo syrup; she finally put a stop to it when Jona was old enough to reach the bottle on the dresser herself.) We drink tea so sweet it will make your teeth hurt, slather jam and jelly on biscuits, eat ham cured in sugar and salt, often put a pinch of sugar in slow-cooked greens, and finish up the meal with a sweet wedge of pie.

Some food historians claim that the Southern fascination with sugar is a practical one. In the hot, humid South, sugar was originally a means of preservation. That’s why we have sugar-cured ham and bacon, sweet pickles, and boiled icing to protect cakes.

Another reason for sugar’s importance is that the crop was tied to slavery. Sugar production is undeniably backbreaking work and very labor intensive. Sugar cane followed the movement of African slaves through the islands of Caribbean and into the plantations of the South where it was grown. The mothers and sisters of the men working hard in the fields were in the kitchen, making the food that eventually evolved into Southern cuisine.

When transportation of goods depended upon horses and wagons on iffy roads, it could take months for sugar to travel from the sugar growing state of Louisiana to hill and mountain country. Sugar was a precious commodity then, kept under lock and key, and Southern craftsmen created a specialized piece of furniture known as the “sugar chest”. These strong and decorative boxes were built throughout the South, most notably in Kentucky and Tennessee. Finally, with the advent of steamboats and improved shipping, sugar prices fell in the 19th century and sugar became more widely available throughout the region.

Forget fancy gènoise or sponge cake; in the South, a shortcake is really just a sweet biscuit. Granted, this recipe is a step above, flavored with orange zest and sprinkled with raw sugar that sparkles like amber on the golden tops. At Martha Stewart Living Television, we served miniature versions of these buttery brown sugar shortcakes filled with peaches, strawberries, and blueberries at a luncheon attended by President Clinton.

In the past, brown sugar was semirefined white sugar with some of the molasses left in. Two popular types of raw sugar are the coarse-textured dry Demerara sugar from the Demerara area of Guyana, and the moist, fine-textured Barbados sugar. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. The coarse turbinado crystals are blond colored and have a delicate molasses flavor. Now, for the most part, regular brown sugar is white sugar to which molasses has been added. The color, light or dark, depends on the amount of molasses added. Dark brown is slightly stronger in flavor than light brown, but otherwise interchangeable. When brown sugar comes into contact with air, the moisture evaporates and causes the sugar to lump together and become hard. Prevent this by storing brown sugar in a sealable plastic bag or in an airtight container. Also, storing brown sugar in the refrigerator will help keep it fresh and soft.

Sugah, hope you enjoy these shortcakes!
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Brown Sugar Shortcakes
Makes 8 to 10

31/2 cups  all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons  baking powder
1 teaspoon  fine sea salt
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange, or 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 cup  heavy cream, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup  whole milk
Turbinado, Demerara, or raw brown sugar, for sprinkling
Berries and Garnish
2 pints  strawberries, hulled and quartered lengthwise
Juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Whipped cream, for accompaniment

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.

To prepare the shortcakes, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed. Add the butter and zest, and mix on low until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and milk and increase the speed to medium; mix until the dough comes together. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface, lightly knead a few times, and shape into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick.

Cut out dough circles using a 3-inch round cutter. Place the circles on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with cream and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile, to prepare the berries, place the strawberries in a bowl. Add the orange juice and granulated sugar. Set aside.

To serve, halve the shortcakes horizontally with a serrated knife. Place the bottom halves on individual serving plates, top each with a dollop of whipped cream, then some berries, and another dollop of whipped cream. Cover with the tops of the shortcakes and serve.

The shortcakes can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Memorial Day & Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs Thursday, May 21 2009 

Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Memorial Day is the start of grilling season. I want to share with you an absolutely unbelievable rib recipe. I taught these all over last summer and the combination of sweet and heat is soooooooo positively off-the-charts good.

I want to give a shout out to the National Pork Board for contributing the pork for my event for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts a week or so ago. We raised 21K + which equals 100,000 meals! We served these ribs and everyone loved them. I know you will, too.

I made some changes to my website. There are a passle of new recipes to try out. Please click on the link to check things out.
www.virginiawilllis.com

Here’s to a safe and happy weekend. Wear your seatbelt and if you are on the water, your life jacket. Seriously.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Coca-Cola–Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Makes about 20 pieces

Coca-Cola is to Atlanta as Guinness is to Dublin. Pork has a natural affinity for sweet, rich caramel flavors. These “nouveau” Southern ribs are by no means traditional, but they are lip-smacking good.

Scotch bonnet peppers are intensely hot, but their fire is tempered by the sweetness of the sugar and Coke. To tone down the heat, substitute jalapeños instead.

1 cup Coca-Cola Classic
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
11/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 Scotch bonnet chiles, chopped
2 racks baby back ribs (3 pounds total)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the Coca-Cola, vinegar, brown sugar, and chiles to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and keep the sauce warm while the ribs cook.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

Or, if grilling, simply treat the oven as a grill. Cook the ribs at a moderate heat, 325°F and bake with the grill covered for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil or place on the hot side of the grill or increase a gas grill to high. Liberally spoon half of the remaining glaze over the ribs and broil until glazed a deep mahogany brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining glaze, an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

Serve immediately with lots of napkins.

Photo credit: Jeanine Dargis. Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

Most Delicious Deviled Eggs Saturday, Apr 11 2009 

Spring Flowers

I took the above photograph a few weeks ago at the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market. It was a rainy Saturday morning, overcast and cool. The light can be so nice on days like that. I just love this photo, but I can’t claim too much credit. At this farmer’s market, like many, there was not much to do. Just point and shoot! I would really like to take photography classes. (In my spare time! Ok – maybe a reward for when I complete my second book proposal.)

 

These deviled eggs are amazing. It’s very important to puree the yolk mixture completely, and really I prefer using a sieve or tamis. This prevents lumps and makes the mixture so much smoother as well as prettier. This is another one of those recipes that there are very few ingredients which makes the technique is so important. 

I made these once for a political fundraiser at my friend Melita Easter’s house, attended by the governor of Georgia, who stood there and practically ate the whole plate. The secret is butter, a tip I picked up in culinary school that takes this Southern staple from delicious to sublime and renders people unable to use the sense God gave a cat to stop eating. (more…)

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