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Biscuits - Texas Style


fifi
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This is sort of a two part post. First, a little background.

I have been reading some James Villas books and there is an inevitable emphasis in there on biscuits. I have been inspired to attempt to achieve fame in biscuit-dom so off I go. I have rendered a bit of lard. I have purchased a fresh can of Crisco and Calumet baking powder. I have even searched out and nailed a bag of White Lily flour (Central Market). I have a new KA food processor for cutting the fat into the flour, though I may try a side by side test to see if hand cutting with the pastry cutter thingy makes any difference. Short of making another dedicated trip to Central Market I will have to do with Borden's buttermilk for now.

Having successfully mastered the cream biscuits from Cooks Illustrated, I am ready to embark on the "real thing". Maybe we can have a debate on that here as well. What I mean is a debate about "the real thing".

What I remember as the quintessential biscuit is the production of my great-aunt Minnie that used to visit us on a regular basis when I was a kid. My grandmother and mother were excellent cooks but rarely made biscuits. They were intimidated by Minnie's prowess in the biscuit department. That intimidation remained long after the dear passed on.

There is one aspect of Minnie's biscuits that I am curious about. In most Southern cookbooks I have not seen it so I am wondering if it is a particularly "Texas Thang". While she would sometimes bake the biscuits on a baking sheet, her favorite way was to put a cast iron frying pan in the oven with a bit of lard, bacon fat, or Crisco in a pinch. Then she would bathe both sides of the cut out biscuits in the melted fat, position them in the pan, and put them back in to bake. Sometimes, in a smaller pan, the sides would touch and they would be a pan full of tenderness. If the really big frying pan was available (if it wasn't in service for frying chicken) she might space them out a bit so the sides got crispier.

So... One aspect of this thread is the question as to whether or not this is a regional variation on biscuit making or just one of Aunt Minnie's idiosyncrasies.

The next thing that worries me is the White Lily (or maybe Red Band) flour. Was the soft wheat flour generally available in Texas, ever? Am I possibly straying from Texas authenticity (if there is such a thing) by straying from all purpose flour. After all, I had to go to Central Grocery to get it. I have no idea about availablility many years ago.

Keep in mind that I am sticking with my Aunt Minnie as the icon because she was quite a woman and entrepreneur. After her husband died, as a youngish woman she ended up owning the cotton gin, the hotel and restaurant, provided catering for the railroad and actually owned a pretty big piece of the town... Brookshire. This was in the twenties, I think. Her cooking was well known state-wide.

One other interesting anecdote... My dad, long before I was born (actually before the war) made her a biscuit cutter to her specifications. She used to always have it with her on her visits. It was about 3 or 4 inches across and very very sharp. The metal was thick enough so that she actually sharpened it. Or she had my dad do that. If he was at home when she arrived you would hear... "Ed... You need to sharpen my cutter. The last few batches of biscuits that I made didn't rise worth a damn. The dough gets too smashed together. Go on... Get busy now... Or we won't have decent biscuits for lunch."

Does anyone have anything to contribute to the existence, or maybe not, of Texas style biscuits?

It may take a week or so before I start cooking but when I do I will post pictures.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I don't have anything to add other than I'd love to learn to make Texas Style biscuits. Any recipes you want to share will be appreciated and used.

I've don't recall ever making biscuits from scratch, unless scones count.

My Ma was a bisquick kinda gal. I grew up thinking biscuits were these lumpy shaped drop dealies. Imagine my delight when I discovered rolled biscuits!

So I'd love to tinker around with you and get really good at making biscuits.

What a delightful story you have about your aunt's cutter!

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OK... Maybe the first thing that I will do is a "pan" of biscuits that are my best guess at a version of my Aunt Minnie's. Note that I am not an experienced biscuit maker but I will do my best.

Actually, the recipe for buttermilk biscuits is pretty static. Any variations are probably superfluous to technique. After all, the end results seem to be due to variations in technique.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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As far as the soft flour, I can add this. If you ever get to Saginaw, Texas, take a look at them ol' grain silos at the tracks as you drive North. They still have Light Crust Flour on the sides, although it's fadey. Remember hearing about Pappy O'Daniels and the Light Crust Doughboys (who were, of course, Bob Wills and band)? Light Crust Flour used to be the Texas version of White Lily.

I've always used an iron skillet for bisquits. And my mom used her "production can" which was a wicked tool we also chopped salad with, to make her bisquits.

But we also had the cathead bisquits like Shirley Corriher makes. They are more drop than rolled.

Get everything cold. Your fat, and milk. Try to mix where you still have globules in the mix. Hope any of this helps.

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Actually Fifi, Mabelline brings up a good point. I was taught to "roll once and not for very long". The shortening (or lard or butter or all 3) should not be incorporated like in some kind of batter. Just mixed in until things are of a consistency for rolling. Much like pie dough (not the thickness, just the quick mix until it will hold together part). Mabelline in right about the cold. It makes things go better as the shortening does not incorporate quite as easy.

I have my grandmothers biscuit cutter. It has been repaired with solder. Can you imagine repairing a tin cutter that probably came from the 5 and 10 anyway? She was tight as a tick.

I'm ready for a Sabine River Biscuit Battle.......

1st I'll need a kitchen and then I'll need an oven. I'm working on that!

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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I knew you guys would come through.

Mabelline, I had forgotten about Light Crust Flour. Ye... Haaa.

Actually, Aunt Minnie never "rolled" her biscuits. She patted out a slab of dough about a half inch thick. That made for surface irregularities that browned at different rates. She always said that a rolling pin "suppressed the character and independence of the biscuits". (I am not kidding. :laugh: )

Brooks... I really can't take you on while your kitchen is "in the yard". It just wouldn't be fair. :laugh::laugh::laugh:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Good catch, Mabelline. You may very well be right. Of course, by the time I was born, they were cooking on a gas range. She never really gave up the lard dip though and that is how she did it most of the time.

I am going to do the baking sheet and skillet thing side by side so we will see what happens.

Report to follow when I get the first chance.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Your recipe seems consistent with others I have found on the web describing "Texas biscuits". At www.TexasCooking.com, Eleanor Bradshaw has an article on How to Make Biscuits.

To me the real challenge isn't the biscuits, its the cream gravy to go with the biscuits. One thing my mom could do was make great gravy. Thick but not pasty, with plenty of pepper and fixins from whatever was fried in the skillet immediately before. Back when I was in college, you knew who the southern girls were by their ability to make gravy. Even the ones who couldn't boil water made good gravy.

To me, biscuits are really a butter delivery system. So to enjoy great biscuits like yours, you need some fresh Falfurias butter with homemade jams. I prefer fig, blackberry or huckleberry.

Ouisie's Restaurant has great biscuits.

Look forward to the results of your experiment.

Best regards,

Lindsey

"As far as I'm concerned, bacon comes from a magical, happy place" Frank, John Doe

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fifi, did she get the oven scorchin' hot? Because my '46 Roper cooks things much better than my new oven--Magic Chef---hey, it was my landlady's choice, not mine. I've already had to recalibrate this bitch three times, and I got it in February.

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Brooks... I really can't take you on while your kitchen is "in the yard". It just wouldn't be fair. :laugh::laugh::laugh:

Kind of like fighting lions with a switch? :wink::laugh:

Actually, I have managed some pretty fair biscuits out of a dutch oven, but we made need to count that as another category.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Actually, I have managed some pretty fair biscuits out of a dutch oven, but we made need to count that as another category.

AAANNNDDD...

Are you hiding state secrets or are you willing to share technique and pictures?

Interestingly enough, I do vaguely remember biscuits in a dutch oven and a campfire. I think it was when we would go and camp out on some land that a cousin owned on the banks of the Brazos. The purpose of the trip was to catch catfish and pick up pecans. I also think it was a yearly family excursion. He sold the property before I got old enough to remember it well.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Now most of the time with a Dutch Oven is one of those times that stuff does get dipped like we were talkin' about. The best cobbler to be eaten can come out of a Dutch Oven (at a cow camp, after steaks, taters, bisquits or cornbread, and veggies-anything from canned whole tomatoes, frijoles, green beans, squash--aw, jeez). I got to stop doing this!!

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I knew you guys would come through.

Mabelline, I had forgotten about Light Crust Flour. Ye... Haaa.

Actually, Aunt Minnie never "rolled" her biscuits. She patted out a slab of dough about a half inch thick. That made for surface irregularities that browned at different rates. She always said that a rolling pin "suppressed the character and independence of the biscuits". (I am not kidding. :laugh: )

Brooks... I really can't take you on while your kitchen is "in the yard". It just wouldn't be fair.  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:

I'm with Aunt Minnie. I never roll out biscuits either -- always pat them out. Makes for a more interesting and fluffier rise and bake I think. But I never had anything as great as your auntie to say about it. :laugh: Never fold/knead biscuit dough more than 2 or 3 times, pat out to 1/2 inch and cut decisively without twisting the cutter. I have a wooden biscuit cutter given to me by my grandmother about 30 years ago.

I make biscuits both ways, on baking sheets and in my cast iron skillet. We enjoy the difference between the fully browned and crispier biscuits from the sheet and the softer pull-aparts that come out of the skillet. Sometimes I like them flour-topped, sometimes butter-brushed.

Cast iron dutch oven works great for campfire biscuits. I heat oven first over coals, oil bottom and about two inches up the side, carefully lay in biscuits, return to fire for about 8-10 minutes. Sometimes I turn them after 5 or 6 minutes and the result is similar to a biscuit "English muffin."

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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Cast iron dutch oven works great for campfire biscuits. I heat oven first over coals, oil bottom and about two inches up the side, carefully lay in biscuits, return to fire for about 8-10 minutes. Sometimes I turn them after 5 or 6 minutes and the result is similar to a biscuit "English muffin."

Ok... That is a start. :biggrin: A couple of more details please. Is the dutch oven on a grate over the fire? For some dumb reason, I am remembering it sitting in the coals but that doesn't seem right. I would think that would be too hot.

I have a reason for being so interested in this method even though I don't anticipate going camping any time soon. My nephew is a really good cook. During hunting season he gets invited to some pretty high toned deer leases if he will promise to do some of the cooking. Often they have a campfire thing at lease one night. (Must be a male bonding thing. :raz: ) Anyway... I have already promised to teach him about biscuits if I figure it all out. If he could pull off biscuits on the campfire that would be a real wowser. I plan to "charge him" a lot for the service. :laugh:

I wonder if it works to make and cut your biscuits and plop them into the freezer, thaw and bake later? I was thinking that he could put the pucks into the camp box and by the time he got to the lease, they would be just about fine for that evening. Then, as I think about it more, that would be a handy thing for me, too. The reason I don't do stuff like this more is because... who is going to eat all that stuff? But, if I could take a couple of pucks out of the freezer at a time and bake a couple of biscuits, I would be a happy woman.

I promise that I am going to really make some biscuits... as soon as I get enough real work done to pay for the ingredients. :wink:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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fifi, they won't be the same, but you'll be able to eatum. the Dutch Oven has three legs and it is usually stood right over the coals. The top also has a rim for holding coals. Good Dutch cooks can tell you what the temp is by the amount of coals they've piled up. Some folks heat the bottom up then move it off the fire, then add the top coals. There's also a way of stacking those so you have different food courses in each pot.

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Yes, Mabelline has got it. These are not flat-bottomed stovetop Dutch ovens, but ones with three legs. They can sit in the coals or be hung from a tripod for some applications. But for biscuits, I would suggest on the coals with some on top of the rimmed lid as a place to start. You have to experiment to figure out how many coals below and on top, given whatever the ambient temperatue is.

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fifi, they won't be the same, but you'll be able to eatum. the Dutch Oven has three legs and it is usually stood right over the coals. The top also has a rim for holding coals. Good Dutch cooks can tell you what the temp is by the amount of coals they've piled up. Some folks heat the bottom up then move it off the fire, then add the top coals. There's also a way of stacking those so you have different food courses in each pot.

Yep... That is what he is off to procure. Maybe we could do some tests using our regular charcoal. Then I could use the remote probe thermometer just to see what is happening. Whee! Playing with toys!

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Cast iron dutch oven works great for campfire biscuits. I heat oven first over coals, oil bottom and about two inches up the side, carefully lay in biscuits, return to fire for about 8-10 minutes. Sometimes I turn them after 5 or 6 minutes and the result is similar to a biscuit "English muffin."

Ok... That is a start. :biggrin: A couple of more details please. Is the dutch oven on a grate over the fire? For some dumb reason, I am remembering it sitting in the coals but that doesn't seem right. I would think that would be too hot.

I have a reason for being so interested in this method even though I don't anticipate going camping any time soon. My nephew is a really good cook. During hunting season he gets invited to some pretty high toned deer leases if he will promise to do some of the cooking. Often they have a campfire thing at lease one night. (Must be a male bonding thing. :raz: ) Anyway... I have already promised to teach him about biscuits if I figure it all out. If he could pull off biscuits on the campfire that would be a real wowser. I plan to "charge him" a lot for the service. :laugh:

I wonder if it works to make and cut your biscuits and plop them into the freezer, thaw and bake later? I was thinking that he could put the pucks into the camp box and by the time he got to the lease, they would be just about fine for that evening. Then, as I think about it more, that would be a handy thing for me, too. The reason I don't do stuff like this more is because... who is going to eat all that stuff? But, if I could take a couple of pucks out of the freezer at a time and bake a couple of biscuits, I would be a happy woman.

I promise that I am going to really make some biscuits... as soon as I get enough real work done to pay for the ingredients. :wink:

OK, Linda, I'm actually going to try the freezer method for you. :blink: Because I can. :laugh:

But, my misgivings concerning this are that baking powder/buttermilk method of baking is an instant gratification thing. Best when baked soonest after building.

Richard and Mabelline are very correct -- the proper Dutch oven for open fire cooking does have the legs. Wish I still had mine -- that's another story. However, for those who do have the flat bottom, which is what I have now, I have used it quite satisfactorily held above the coals a bit on a grate. The lid hooks on and also doubles as a shallow skillet -- perfect for holding coals in the top when top side down. :biggrin:

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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But, my misgivings concerning this are that baking powder/buttermilk method of baking is an instant gratification thing. Best when baked soonest after building.

Yes... the chemist in me is wondering about that. I am not sure that a refrigerator freezer can bring the temperature down fast enough to stop the reaction. If I had my regular freezer that I kept below zero, I would have a little more confidence. And I would freeze them well separated on a sheet pan then package. There may also be some tricks like adjusting the recipe to add some more baking powder (there is probably plenty of acid in the buttermilk) but too much and the taste will go off.

Unless someone has a better idea, this kind of rig is what he is going to get.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Looks about like what I used to have. Loved it!

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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"The Great Sabine River Biscuit Battle" will make a good read (It has to have "great" in the title or it's not worth writing about :wink: ). I look forward to the front line coverage.

As for mixing the dough, I watched one of Emeril's TV shows where he showed how little you work the dough for a good biscuit. He cut the fat and flour together and then added the rest of the ingredients and blended them in the bowl by hand, one two three four turns...it's done. It didn't look done but when he poured the dough out onto the cutting board, to my amazement the dough was mixed and ready. He gently patted the dough into a thick square and used a ring cutter to make the biscuits. As you've pointed out, he said to never twist the cutter.

He made it look so easy it made me want to try it...haven't yet, but I am certain I will, thanks in part to this thread.

Good luck with your undertaking!

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Yeah, fifi, I really don't trust the processor for this critical step, because it whirls so fast, the blades heat up. NO HEAT to the cold ingredients. These are what meld in the cooking. My mama and gram did not roll the dough out, as well. It was just patted "like a good babie's bottom".

The Dutch Ovens you show are as good as they get. Now you can visualize what I meant about a tower with the entire meal cookin'.

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I would suggest trying the Lodge Logic (pre-seasoned) version. I have seasoned all of my Lodge cast iron (9 pieces I think) myself, except for one Lodge Logic round griddle I picked up this past Winter. The pre-sesoned would have saved me a LOT of time and fuel.

An additional item your nephew might consider would be a African cast iron pot. They are harder to find than they were a few years ago, but they are more stable when hung from a tripod and work very well (but not for biscuits).

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