Confession time: I wasn’t raised on anything even resembling homemade biscuits, an especially shameful admission for a Southerner. The closest to “from scratch” my family ever got was Bisquick, but more often Dad would crack open a can of flaky biscuits and call it breakfast. So I don’t know where I developed a taste for the real stuff, but I’m glad I did, because there’s just no comparison.

This was a big biscuit weekend around here. I woke Saturday with a craving and set the wheels in motion, but the results were unsatisfactory, so I followed up with a second round Sunday because I just knew there was a better recipe out there. And of course there was; Gourmet ran an article on Ms. Edna Lewis and her protegé Scott Peacock not so long ago, and the magazine was practically staring me in the face as I blithely searched recipes online. Why would I look for second-rate when the ultimate was right there? It’s like reading Adrian Tomine when all you want is Dan Clowes or popping in a DVD of When Harry Met Sally when you know you’d be much more satisfied by Annie Hall. My ways are mysterious, sometimes even to myself.

So Ms. Lewis (via Mr. Peacock) was very particular about her biscuits, you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear. From the brand of flour to the method of cutting the biscuits, it’s all very precisely laid out in the recipe. White Lily flour — a Southern staple made from a soft wheat — is preferred. Naturally, it’s nearly impossible to find around here, so I made a close approximation with 2 parts cake flour to 3 parts all-purpose flour. And because I just don’t keep lard at hand, I used Plugra instead, figuring it has a higher percentage of butterfat than most supermarket brands, so it’d be closer to lard. And really, who can complain about Plugra?

I worked the butter into the flour with my icy hands (which, though naturally chilly, were perfect for the task after a mile-long walk with Rufus on a 15-degree morning), then stirred buttermilk into the mixture juuuust until the dough came together. After kneading the dough briefly on a well-floured board, I rolled it out and began cutting the biscuits. Did you know that you shouldn’t twist the biscuit cutter as you do this? Well, it’s true, and it was more difficult to break myself of that habit than you might think, but all turned out well.

Just a short time later, we were enjoying pillowy, crusty biscuits brushed with melted butter. Gil went the standard route, smearing his biscuit halves with butter and jam, but I ate my biscuits dipped in pure cane syrup, just the way I have since I was a tiny tot. Oh, man, it just curls my toes. Excellent stuff.

Do give this recipe a try if you’re ever craving buttermilk biscuits. Just remember to take the recipe as gospel (except for the lard, I suppose); if you do, you’re guaranteed one heavenly breakfast.

recipe after the jump

Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits adapted from Ms. Edna Lewis/Gourmet

3 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
2 cups sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups well-shaken cold buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add butter, coating it with flour, then rub between your fingertips until coarsely blended with some 1/2-inch lumps.

Make a well in flour mixture, then add buttermilk, stirring just until a dough forms (it will be soft and sticky). Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times. Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round (1/2 inch thick) and, using a fork dipped in flour, prick all the way through about every 1/2 inch.

Cut out as many rounds as possible with a 2 1/2- to 3-inch round cookie/biscuit cutter dipped in flour (do not twist cutter).

Bake, almost touching, on an ungreased heavy baking sheet, rotating sheet after about 6 minutes if browning unevenly, until crusty and golden-brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and serve warm or at room temperature.


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