Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cheap Bastids Thanksgiving Biscuits Mamaw's Way

For years I have been either buying “dinner rolls” for Thanksgiving or baking up a tube or 2 of refrigerated “Grands”. Not bad, but not all that fantastic either. Recently, I started on a quest to come up with the “perfect” homemade biscuit.

Part of it is because I thought that flour is cheap, baking powder is cheap, milk is cheap and lard is cheap too. Yes, I said lard. Cheap Bastid is becoming a lard fan. It’s without doubt the “fat” of preference in all sorts of baking and even better, it’s cheap—a lot cheaper than shortening and cheaper than butter. Sure it’s fat but so what. I’m not using a whole lot at any one given time and the taste and texture is fantastic. Besides I get it for $.98 lb at the grocery store and it takes 1/3 cup to make a dozen biscuits.

The holidays aren’t my sole reason to try baking biscuits. There are several. Bacon has gotten so damned expensive that I recently broke down and bought a big tube of Jimmy Dean sausage—the long, fat 3 pounder that you slice through the plastic casing just like I remember my Mamaw and also my Dad doing with the farm sausage wrapped in cheesecloth and hung in the smokehouse on the farm in Kentucky for several weeks.

Anyway, the 3 lb. tube of Jimmy Dean was $2.21 a pound. Bacon is now $4 a pound. I can do that math. Ground pork versus pork from a pig’s belly. So what, they’re both good. But, the sausage patties really beg to be fried up and served on a homemade, hot buttered biscuit.

And the other reason. Baking is relaxing. It’s also precise. It takes me back in time when that was the only way to get biscuits. And yeah, a batch of biscuits cost less than a dollar to make and Cheap Bastid likes that. I’m actually having some fun working on getting the technique down—a technique that my Mamaw would never have considered “technique”; she just knew how to do it.

Mamaw’s Country Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lard or shortening
2/3 cup milk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt (if you want to add just pinch of baking soda go ahead and add it now). Cut in the lard until the mixture resembles small peas. You can use a pastry blender or a fork. (Note: I keep the lard in the freezer and then cut ¼ “ slices and dice them). Gently add the milk and stir with a fork to make a soft dough. Put a bit of flour on your hands and form the dough into a round.

Turn this biscuit dough onto a lightly floured surface. Use the palm of your hand to pat it down to about the size of a sheet of paper. Then fold it like a letter into thirds and press it down. Now you can either roll or pat out the dough until it’s about 3/8 inch thick. Use a floured biscuit or the edge of a glass (about 3” in diameter) to cut out your biscuits and put them on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1” apart.

When you’ve used up the dough, form it back into a ball, press to 3/8” and cut some more out—now these won’t be quite as flaky, but that’s OK because you’re getting more biscuits. You should get about a dozen biscuits. Put the cookie sheet of biscuits in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

(my 2nd batch ever--hot, flaky, golden homemade biscuits)

And that’s it! Get ready for goodness. Serve these at your Thanksgiving meal. In fact, double the recipe because you’ll want plenty. If you’ve never made scratch biscuits before, here’s a couple of tips that I learned the hard way:

1) Once you put your liquid in and stir, you can’t add more liquid—the dough will turn to paste. You can make drop biscuits out of this but you can’t really work the dough or cut the biscuits.

2) Practice at least once before you want to serve them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. That will help you get your timing down and learn just how little you have to work this dough to make flaky, tasty biscuits.

And, don’t just do these for Thanksgiving. It only takes about a half hour to make these from the time you start until you’re pulling them out of the oven. Bake ‘em for breakfast. Use them in biscuits and country sausage gravy. Make a biscuit, sausage patty and fried egg breakfast sandwich. It’s tastier and a lot cheaper than McDonald’s or Jack In the Box or Carl’s, Jr.

But most of all, getting your hands and heart involved in your cooking is a great thing to do. It’s the way food is supposed to be and you can be proud of your accomplishment. And besides, I know that Mamaw is up there in heaven, smiling down and saying “Bless your little heart”, which was her favorite saying.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

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