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Southern from scratch: Homemade Southern Biscuits are worth the effort

An Alton Brown recipe was the inspiration for these Southern Biscuits. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Southern Biscuits go well with homemade sausage gravy. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Butter, left, compared to shortening (right). Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

One of my son Gio's favorite Southern specialties is biscuits and gravy, but up until last week, I'd always made it for him using a tin of pre-made biscuits with a homemade sausage gravy that was featured in this column in January 2017.

But when he requested biscuits and gravy for his celebratory first-day-of-summer-break breakfast, I decided it was time to revisit an old favorite from Alton Brown: Southern Biscuits.

I discovered his recipe about 15 years ago and made these biscuits for Tony, my husband, at least twice a month for nearly a year or so. But once Gio was born, my habits and rituals changed and this much-beloved biscuit recipe was lost and forgotten.

When I searched online for the recipe, I found several variations from Alton Brown and decided to test out three of them.

In my first test, Brown's recipe used a combination of 3 parts all-purpose flour to 1 part cake flour to replicate the texture found in the soft flour used in the South. This version also used equal measurements of butter and shortening, in the amounts of two tablespoons of each. The biscuits turned out fine, but the color was a bit uneven and while they were flaky, they weren't as good as I'd remembered.

For the second test, I used only all-purpose flour but changed the amount of fat to 2 parts shortening to 1 part butter. These biscuits turned out beautifully golden brown and they were flakier than the biscuits in the first test. Better, but still not quite perfect.

In the third and final test, I returned to the combination of two flours from the first test and continued with the 2-1 ratio of shortening to butter. These biscuits were just right — standing tall and proud, they were perfectly golden brown and crispy on the outside, while tender and moist on the inside and flaky enough to easily split in half with your hands.

For final confirmation, I had Gio and Tony test out all three versions. While they enjoyed each version, they agreed that the third batch was the best. After all that baking, I had dozens of biscuits on hand and planned to freeze them, but they were devoured by my hungry men within just a few days, both covered with sausage gravy or layered with butter and jam.

Using basic pantry ingredients, these Southern Biscuits are easy to make and freeze well either baked or unbaked. The key to achieving an ultra-flaky result is to use very cold butter and shortening, as well as a light touch when handling the dough (fingertips work best).

After gobbling up 10 biscuits in just a few hours, my ever-hungry teenager Gio summed up these biscuits perfectly: "Just a little butter and jam can make these tasty treats into a delectable delight. Or, put some of my mom's gravy over the biscuits and have a meal you'll never forget."

A memorable recipe, indeed.

Southern Biscuits

(Lightly adapted from an Alton Brown recipe)

Makes: 12 to 16 biscuits

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (or 2 cups if not using cake flour), plus extra for dusting

½ cup cake flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

4 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch pieces

¼ cup shortening, chilled

1 cup buttermilk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until combined.

Using your fingertips, lightly cut in the butter and shortening, mixing gently until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir in the buttermilk, work it gently until a loose, sticky dough is formed. With your hands, gently knead the dough until all the flour has been absorbed.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Fold the dough over onto itself about 5 or 6 times, and gently knead until the dough is soft and smooth.

Use your hands to gently press the dough into a circle about 1-inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter (2 to 2 ½ inches) to cut out the biscuits. Be sure to press all the way through the dough and then give it a little twist to release the biscuit. Repeat around the surface of the dough, keeping your cuts as close together as possible to eliminate waste.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet, ungreased or lined with parchment paper, close together but just shy of touching. Form any leftover dough into another 1-inch thick round and cut out as many biscuits as possible; repeat as necessary until all dough has been used.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until biscuits are tall and golden brown. Transfer biscuits to a wire cooling rack and cool if desired or serve immediately with butter and jam.

To store:

Store at room temperature in a metal tin or airtight container for several days.

To freeze unbaked biscuits, place them on a sheet pan in a single layer, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, at least 2 hours. Place frozen biscuits in a resealable freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Bake frozen biscuits at 475 degrees for 5 minutes, then reduce temperature to 425 and bake for 15 minutes or until tall and golden brown.

To freeze baked biscuits, place in resealable freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, thaw at room temperature and warm in the oven or microwave.

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...

• 2017: Quick Summer Salsas

• 2016: Grilled Chicken with Honey Lemon Garlic Sauce

• 2015: Honey Vanilla Ice Cream

• 2014: Tony's Antipasto Platter and World Cup Caipirinha Cocktails

• 2013: Torta al Vino Rosso (red wine chocolate cake)

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

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