Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rye Not?

We folks here in the south LOVE our biscuits. Sweet, savory, dripping with butter, loaded with honey or covered in red-eye or sausage gravy, it really doesn't matter. Biscuits come to our tables laden with history, evoking fond memories of the person who taught us how to make them. We would never think of serving fried chicken without them and they grace our tables whenever we want to feed and nurture the ones we love most. There is nothing better than breaking open a hot, flaky biscuit and slathering it with butter, then savoring it while that melting butter trickles slowly down our chins.

Of course, no one can agree on the perfect way to make them. White Lily flour or unbleached all-purpose? Lard, butter or shortening? Yeast? Cream? Added ingredients, such as cheese or benne seeds? The debate is not unlike the same one that rages around the best way to fry chicken. Covered? Uncovered? Soaked in buttermilk? Brined?  Ask any Southerner and you will get a completely different opinion.  It's just the way we roll.

We had houseguests recently and I wasn’t sure if they were going to be here for dinner on the second night of their visit. No problem if they had other plans, but I wanted to have something on hand just in case. I decided to make a big pot of tomato-basil soup.

In the meantime, though, I was in the process of researching barbecue sauces (more about that in another post). I pulled out another one of those retro books of mine, “As American As Apple Pie” by Phillip Stephen Schulz.

Published in 1990, this book is a treasure trove of American recipes. Mr. Schulz devotes entire chapters to classic American foods, such as apple pies, barbecue sauces, bread puddings, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and meat loaves. And biscuits.

Thanks to my ADHD, I totally forgot about the barbecue sauce project and turned my attention to the biscuit chapter. Since I had just purchased a jar of caraway seeds, the recipe for Campton Place’s Caraway-Ryes caught my eye. Since I also had a bag of rye flour in my pantry and a pot of simmering soup on the stove, I figured the gods were telling me something.

They were. These biscuits were delicious (with or without the soup) and I would make them again. They are a far cry from a traditional southern biscuit, but who cares?  Guess we now know where I stand on the biscuit-making debate!


1 ½ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ cup rye flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons caraway seeds
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
½ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Toss in the caraway seeds. Cut butter into small cubes and drop them on top of the flour mixture. Use your fingertips or a pastry blender to cut in butter until the mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs.

Stir in the buttermilk with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough. Roll dough out to a ½-inch thickness on a lightly floured board. Cut into circles, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter. It is okay to re-roll scraps once and cut out more rounds.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 – 12 minutes. For best results, serve immediately with lots of good salted butter for spreading.

Yield: 16 2-inch biscuits

Don’t toss out those leftover scraps of dough!  Just bake them up as well. They won’t look pretty, but they sure will taste good. When I worked at Watershed, Steven Satterfield (now chef/owner at Miller-Union) was in charge of the biscuits on Fried Chicken Night and he always baked up the scraps for us. As I stood there for hours, pan-frying those 90 chickens every Tuesday, those tasty little scraps were manna from heaven!

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