01 October 2010

biscuit-y goodness

When I think 'biscuit', I think of Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, of light, fluffy, buttery, flaky, salty, warm, stupefyingly good, ode-worthy biscuits in the finest Southern tradition.

Their biscuits are the epitome of biscuity goodness. I've tried for years to come near that level of unbelieveable yumminess and textural delight, but to no avail. I mean, I've made some decent biscuits over the years, but nothing like the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen.

So I recently revisited this obsession, searching the interwebs high and low for the SBK recipe, and finally found something in a Daily Tar Heel article. 5 pounds of flour, 24 oz of butter (that's SIX sticks, in case you were wondering) and a gallon of buttermilk. Mix ingredients, bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Makes 45 biscuits. And that, literally, is all they wrote.

I was so close, I could almost taste it. (Ha!) So I experimented. First I broke the recipe down into quantities a normal person would use. This required math, but I stuck with it. Then I did several test runs.

I'm sure they were using self-rising flour, and probably one of the traditional southern varieties, at that. This explains the lack of leavening agent; one cup of self-rising flour equates to one cup of all-purpose flour plus 1 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/8 tsp salt. The next time I use this recipe, I'm going to use 4 1/2 or 5 teaspoons of baking powder (at high altitude, you're supposed to reduce the baking powder by about 1/4 tsp per tsp).

I also turned to the magical interwebs for biscuit-making tips. One was to press straight down when cutting the biscuits out; twisting the cutter/glass evidently compresses the edges and hamper the biscuit's fluffiness. And the good lord knows we definitely do not want that.

Keep your butter as cold as possible when baking. Another traditional tip is to keep your flour cold. One food blogger went so far as to always keep flour in the freezer. I think I'll just put the dough in the fridge when it's resting or if I need to step away for a few to take care of the kiddo.

If you want to increase the biscuit's flakiness, form a rectangle with the dough, then fold it in on itself in thirds before you roll it out and cut it.

One more tip: a professional baker once told me, "Never bake angry." That also goes for stressed out or otherwise upset. Your emotions will come out in your dough. I've had this tip confirmed by other pro baker friends over the years. So get happy, then get baking, friends.

I'm not gonna lie to you: SBK's biscuits still reign supreme. But this recipe takes a pretty good shot at bringing biscuity goodness into your home. Enjoy.

UPDATE: September 9, 2014 - I just updated and retested this recipe, and it's um, pretty freaking amazing. (If I do say so.) Let me know any other tips or modifications you used in the comments - thanks! 

Wanna-Be Sunrise Biscuits

4 c flour (18 oz, 510 grams)
2 tsp salt
5 tsp baking powder (4 tsp at high altitude)
1 tsp baking soda
10 T cold butter (unsalted)
1 3/4 c buttermilk
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash) (or you can use a dash more buttermilk)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (425 high altitude). Briefly whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture. Make a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk. Use your hands to gently, lightly mix together; handle the dough as little as possible. It will be extremely wet and sticky; do not panic. Add a tiny bit of flour, but resist adding too much. The more flour, the denser your biscuits. Instead, form into a ball and let rest a few minutes, say 5-10; this allows the flour in the dough to absorb the liquids and make it less sticky. You'll be surprised at the difference. Add a tiny bit more flour if it's still tacking to your fingers a lot at this point, and let it rest a couple more minutes.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 3/4 or 1 inch thick. Use a 3 inch glass or biscuit cutters to cut rounds from the dough. (If you make them smaller, just decrease the baking time a bit.) Place the rounds on a buttered baking sheet (or freeze them in layers of wax paper to bake later). Brush the tops and sides with an egg mixed with 1 T water, or a dash of buttermilk - like 1T or less - mixed with a bit of water. Bake for 15 minutes (add three or so minutes if baking frozen dough) until golden brown. Makes about 15 biscuits. Eat immediately for maximum bliss; once cooled, they will keep well in tightly sealed container for up to 48 hours (I mean, I'm guessing, but we never seem to make it that long.) You can also freeze the baked biscuits, but I recommend reheating in the microwave with a damp paper towel to restore that essential biscuity moisture.