Song of the South

Flying Biscuit with sawmill gravy and poached eggs; click for a larger version

FLYING BISCUITS

Excerpt from The Flying Biscuit Cafe Cookbook [my comments in brackets]

With some hesitation, I am revealing our greatest secret: the biscuit recipe. The hesitation comes from the fact that people will realize when they read this recipe that there really is no great secret — just a lot of patience and technique. [Well, not really…the recipe takes just six or eight minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to bake.] We make an average of 700 of these fluffy pups on a weekday at the Biscuit and 1,200 on a weekend day. Many different people have made the biscuits since the restaurant has been open. Our biscuiteers arrive before the break of dawn to produce these tender little morsels. If by chance you happen to drive by early some morning, you may catch a glimpse of them through the window, hunched over a table, flour everywhere. If you look even closer you might see the sparkle of the biscuit cutter and a little white ball of dough flying through the air and landing on a sheet pan, ready to be baked for our loving patrons.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (a soft winter wheat flour, such as White Lily, works best) [White Lily is found mainly in the Southern U.S.; an all-purpose flour with a decent protein percentage is fine to use]
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons [caster] sugar [I usually cut this back to 1 1/2 tablespoons]
  • 6 tablespoons [3 oz.] unsalted butter, at room temperature (it should be the consistency of shortening)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream [double cream]
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half [aka light single cream in the UK, or just go wild and use single cream, which is about 18% butterfat compared to about 12% for U.S. half-and-half. For a triple recipe, one pint each of double cream and light single cream. And one big-ass bowl, of course.]
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half for brushing on top of biscuits
  • 1 tablespoon [caster] sugar for sprinkling on top of biscuits

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 F [190 C]. Line a sheet pan [or insulated baking sheet] with parchment paper.

Place flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut softened butter into 1/2 tablespoon-sized bits and add to the flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. [I use fingers. This takes just two or three minutes.]

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in all of the heavy cream and the half and half. Stir the dry ingredients into the cream and mix with a wooden spoon until dough just begins to come together into a ball.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times to form a cohesive mass. Do not overwork the dough [always important to prevent things like biscuits, pancakes, brownies, &c. from having a specific density higher than lead’s]. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1-inch thickness. The correct thickness is the key to obtaining a stately biscuit. Dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter in flour, then cut the dough. [I use a 3″ cutter and get 7 or 8 biscuits.] Repeat until all the dough has been cut. Scraps can be gathered together and rerolled one more time. [She says this because two or more regatherings and rerollings can result in overworked dough, but I find that as long as you do it gently enough, you can do two rounds after the first cutting instead of just one. The last round will get you one or two more biscuits from the scraps. They might turn out a bit misshapen, but they still taste good.]

Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between them. [Why so close? Well, first, these biscuits expand almost exclusively vertically. Second, they retain more moisture when they’re baked closer together, so this measure helps keep the biscuits fluffy instead of crumbly.] Brush the tops of the biscuits with 1 tablespoon of half and half and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar. [That’s 1 tablespoon distributed between all the biscuits, by the way. The half-and-half here is to make the tops a little browner than they might otherwise turn out and to make the sugar stick. I usually don’t bother with the extra sugar on top, though. It really isn’t necessary because they’ve already got sugar inside.]

Bake for 20 minutes at 375 F [190 C]. Biscuits will be lightly browned on the top and flaky in the center when done. [And still almost the original colour on the sides.]

Makes 8 to 12 biscuits, depending on the size of the cutter.

SAWMILL GRAVY
By Alton Brown

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Cook sausage in a cast iron skillet. When done, remove sausage from pan and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Whisk flour into the fat and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk a little at a time. Return to medium-high heat and stir occasionally while the gravy comes to a simmer and thickens. (Be sure to scrape up any brown bits that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan, that’s where the flavor is.) Check seasoning [I use lots of freshly ground pepper], add crumbled sausage and serve over toast or biscuits.

Cave Prep

I’m having arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday to clean up a large lateral meniscus tear – I tripped over a power cord sixteen months ago and landed hard on my right knee – and don’t much fancy microwaved and canned stuff during recovery. It sounds like I’ll have limited mobility, likely unable for a while to stand in the kitchen for hours, so I was busy yesterday and today, making:

  • Four quarts of French onion pot roast beef stew with a chuck eye roast
  • Quart-and-a-half of four-hour pasta sauce
  • Two Comfort Diner meatloaves; one’s in the freezer
  • Approximately one boatload of mashed potatoes
  • Couple pounds of glazed carrots
  • Homemade mayonnaise – specifically for meatloaf sandwiches – using the very cool, very fast immersion-blender-in-a-jar method
  • New York Times chocolate chip cookies with Maldon sea salt and toasted pecans

Of course, I’m already unable to stand for extended periods without pain, so I kind of screwed up the knee in the last 48 hours, but the above will be worth all the wincing and shouts of “Ow!” to no one in particular today. Those plus my best friend keeping me company through Thursday plus the Percocet ought to see me through just fine.

Garlic bread the French way

I’m making lasagne tonight and of course need garlic bread, so I decided to do it in a different way this time, featuring a version of the butter-braised and supremely mellow garlic that starts out Julia Child’s recipe for purée de pommes de terre à l’ail (garlic mashed potatoes). I don’t much like the taste of raw garlic that too often comes through in others’ garlic bread, and this is a fine way to tone down that harshness.

Directions

Braise the peeled cloves of two whole heads of garlic (yes!) in a small pan with a stick (8 tablespoons, 110g) of unsalted butter. Keep it on lowest heat so it’s barely bubbling – you don’t want to color either the butter or the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Braise until the garlic is quite soft and squishable, 20-30 minutes. I squished some of these with the back of a spoon to check them after half an hour.

Note: After baking and tasting the bread, I determined that you could get away with one head of garlic just fine, using the same amount of butter. The bread was good, but the garlic could be taken down a notch or three with no ill effect.

Mash:

Pass through a fine sieve – I found I had missed four bits of skin – and mix in some fresh unsalted butter while it’s still warm. I eyeballed it and decided that about a half-stick more would be enough for the entire Italian loaf I had.

Mix in a handful of fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of salt, then allow to cool for a little while for easier spreading:

Slice an Italian loaf 3/4 of the way through so the loaf stays together, then spread the garlic mixture between the slices, being more generous than a cardiologist would because you’re not making this every day. Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

I’ll post the results later, but the next step is to bake, still wrapped in the foil, at 400F (200C) for 15-20 minutes until the bread inside is hot and beginning to crisp. Open the foil up and bake an additional few minutes uncovered to brown the edges nicely.

Network quality control

On Sunday, I made a double recipe, five quarts, of Julia Child’s French onion soup – The Way to Cook variation – in preparation for my hybrid French onion pot roast beef stew on Christmas. This variation of hers is my favourite. The cognac and vermouth insinuate themselves delightfully into the soup during the three-hour slow simmer, producing intricately complex flavours in the result.

Unfortunately, last week, this news arrived regarding my food processor’s blade assembly:

Conair has received 69 reports of consumers finding broken pieces of the blade in processed food, including 30 reports of mouth lacerations or tooth injuries.

So, I signed up for a new blade and proceeded to thinly slice nineteen onions without mechanical aid. I briefly considered using the mandoline, but using that thing for the better part of an hour seemed like it might well be the start of an eventually disappointing recipe for a trip to A&E, never convenient when you’re about to caramelise twenty cups of onions for an hour or so. ’Round about onion seventeen, I did poke my thumb with the tip of the knife, the first time in some years I’ve cut myself (“Say…why is this onion running red?” I idly wondered), but the Victorinox is nice and sharp, so it was at least a clean cut.

Of course, the soup cannot just lazily sit in the fridge waiting for Saturday night. Quality testing protocols must be followed here at the Finley Quality Network, and that’s where I come in. I also happen to be the sole employee, but that’s neither here nor there – we (I) have standards to maintain regardless of piffling staffing levels. Plus I needed dinner.

Click for a mouth-wateringly HD version

As may be obvious from the photograph, yes, it passed with flying colours. If this has piqued your interest, here’s a printable image I put together of the three related recipes from The Way to Cook: the soup, the French bread croûtes, and the gratinée variant.

On Amazon, I found the defective processor blade, used on about twenty models over a nineteen-year period, is still being offered for sale. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my eyebrows like to shoot off the top of my head when I then, out of curiosity, looked at the oldest reviews and found one in 2012 clearly describing a metal fatigue problem in the blade. I don’t wish to cast aspersions or, more specifically, get sued, but I certainly hope Conair hasn’t been sitting on any similar information they might have been privy to.

Magical fruit

The first part of Christmas dinner is done: Jasper White’s Boston Baked Beans, from this updated version of his recipe originally published in Jasper White’s Cooking from New England. In the updated recipe, he boosts the oven temperature by a hundred degrees to speed baking, but I like the low and slow method in the original recipe, primarily for the extended olfactory hit, so I baked them at 250º F for about five hours.

P1020673w

Click for a larger version

The menu this year:

  • Beautiful burger buns, using this recipe, so we can make…
  • Pulled pork sandwiches from a dry-rubbed shoulder slow-roasted for five hours at 275º F in an oven bag, with condiments of…
  • Cider vinegar barbecue sauce and bread & butter pickle slices – and a little extra pickle juice drizzled on
  • Jasper White’s Boston Baked Beans
  • Maybe a side dish with corn, maybe not
  • Cane syrup pecan pie from John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook, using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, not the corn syrup laughably presented as another choice at the link, because it’s the golden syrup and the rum – or bourbon if you like – that make this recipe special
  • Indian pudding – New England’s corn meal-based adaptation of hasty pudding – with vanilla ice cream

I’ll make most of these ahead of time, with the exception of the buns and the pork shoulder.

A happy Thanksgiving

It must be said that six days off is enough to make me happy even without a holiday.

Thanksgiving dinner

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Thanksgiving dinner this year was a tasty Bell & Evans turkey with roasting pan instant stock that made a perfect quart of deeply flavourful gravy, mash, some Trader Joe’s corn (frozen but pretty good), light and fluffy freshly-baked Parker House rolls, and just for me, butternut squash with white pepper and nutmeg.

In past years Market Basket has stocked a few Bell & Evans turkeys, but this year they had quite a large selection priced at a little more than twice the price per pound of, say, a Butterball bird. That might sound expensive, but Bell & Evans birds are miles above others in terms of flavour, texture, and a complete lack of injected saline solution. At other shops, they’re most often priced at 3-4 times the Butterball price per pound.

The next time I cook butternut squash, I’m going to try roasting or steaming them. Boiling infuses far too much water into the porous flesh, which forces you to cook down the mashed result for 20-25 minutes on a medium heat to get it to an unwatery state where its flavour is properly highlighted. Two whole foot-long gourds produce just 3 cups/.7 litres of delicious cooked squash in the end.

The first leftover dish, an hour ago, was a turkey sandwich on lightly toasted sourdough with jellied cranberry sauce and herb & garlic boursin cheese:

Turkey sandwich

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I’ll likely be making turkey noodle soup with most of the remaining bird, but more sandwiches are definitely in my future.