Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits (and gravy on the side…)

Yesterday, my husband called midday to say he was coming home.  His back hurt for some strange reason and he wanted to lay down.  In no time at all, that’s just what he did — on the bed, heating pad and all.  I couldn’t help but think that he was overreacting, but knew I could make him feel better if I tempted him with one of his favorites:  Biscuits and Gravy.  He loves it.  Are your arteries hardening yet in anticipation?

My mom used to make biscuits and gravy, and so did her mother.  It’s one of those recipes that actually doesn’t have a recipe — it’s just thrown together.  I don’t make it very often for obvious reasons, but when I do, no one complains.  Well, no one honest about food anyway.  This time, I “Frenched” it up a bit — or something.  It’s amazing what some asparagus and Herbes de Provence can do to a simple dish.

But the biscuits…No, they’re not out of a can, and no, I haven’t used Bisquick for years.  It takes very little time to make excellent biscuits that can be eaten with butter and jam, enjoyed with fruit and whipped cream, or with yolk from a poached egg and some lean ham.

I use a little cookbook I purchased years ago called Biscuits and Scones by Elizabeth Alston.  These biscuits turn out every time no matter what you want to use them for.


Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp.  baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
5 T cold unsalted butter, cut up in cubes
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2/3 c. buttermilk

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

1.  Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl; stir to mix well.
Add cold butter, and using hands, pinch and rub the butter through the flour until the mixture looks like small crumbs. This only takes a few minutes and is actually something I enjoy in spite of the problems I have gripping things.  It’s a soothing activity that everyone should try at least once.  The result for your effort is a beautiful mix of very fine crumbs that will hold together immediately if squeezed. (If this takes a bit of time, I put it all back in the fridge for about 10 minutes to cool down again.)

2.  Add the buttermilk and stir lightly with a fork just until a soft dough forms and you can begin to knead it in the bowl with your hands about 15 times.  If you prefer, you can do this on a lightly floured surface.  The point would be to NOT overwork the dough.

3.  Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  You can do this with a rolling pin if you prefer, but the dough is easily managed with your hands.  Choose a biscuit cutter (or a glass, jar, or can) that is 2-3 inches in diameter and cut as many biscuits as you can from the dough.  Repeat the process with scraps until all dough is used.

4.  Place biscuits on a baking sheet with silicone mats or an ungreased cookie sheet with sides touching for soft-sided biscuits you can tear apart, or apart for biscuits with more crisp sides.

5.  Bake for 12-14 minutes or until medium golden brown.

6.  Remove from oven and place on a cooking rack covered with a soft towel.  Let cool for at least 15 minutes before eating (unless you’re like us and you burn your fingers on the first one out of the oven.)

Biscuit Notes:

  • I used a convection setting for 10 minutes and the biscuits were nicely browned and well-risen.
  • I doubled the recipe and used a 3″ diameter cutter.

And if you’re inclined to make gravy:

This isn’t an exact recipe.  It’s something that changes a bit each time I make it.  It depends on what I have in the fridge.  This time it was heavy cream mixed with 2% milk (I had to use the cream and felt guilty so added the 2%), chopped fresh asparagus, and ground sirloin.  Sometimes the fat comes from bacon or sausage, and sometimes, onions are sauteed in the fat before adding the flour.  Once in a while, garlic goes in, but because this usually shows up at breakfast, garlic doesn’t make the cut. Sometimes I add quite a bit of meat, and other times, it’s only a bit.  Play around and enjoy.  But don’t make this a habit.

All quantities are approximations:

  1. Brown 1 lb. lb ground sirloin completely (but not crusty) with salt, pepper, and about a teaspoon of Herbs de Provence.  Remove from pan (there should be no grease).
  2. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan with about a tablespoon of butter, heat briefly, then add a couple of tablespoons of flour, stirring for a couple of minutes to cook out the floury taste.  (I usually try to aim for equal quantities of flour and fat.)  Pour in a cup or so of milk (your pick as to the fat content) and stir to blend while cooking on medium low.  As you stir, the mixture will thicken, and you will need to add more milk to the desired consistency.
  3. Add the chopped asparagus (mine was thin, so required very little cooking time and stayed crisp) and the ground sirloin stirring to mix, and adding more milk if necessary.  Each time you add milk, do so in small quantities to check consistency.  You will also need to adjust flavoring at the end.  Some chopped parsley adds a bit of color that’s nice, but the men don’t seem to care whether it’s there or not.
  4. After mixture is heated through, and flavor is adjusted, then crack open a couple of biscuits and spoon on some gravy.