Flaky, buttery biscuits in a golden crust that rise like champs. They’re perfect solo with some butter and jam, or with my personal favorite comfort food—creamed turkey.
I’m not quite sure how we got to December, but here we are. It’s probably a little tired to talk about how the years whir by faster the older you get, but it always seems to surprise me regardless. This is about the time my work starts to slow down and I get to relax and spend time doing the things I love.
JUST KIDDING. I’m panicking about how much baking I can get finished, trying to finish Christmas shopping (I’ll start in September next year… is probably a lie), packing frantically and trying to get some recipes photographed last-minute. Oh, and telling everybody else in my life not to sweat the small stuff I’m sweating.
Despite being hopelessly overcommitted (re: nutso), I have been trying to find ways to tie in reflection and gratefulness into my work here. Which is how we landed on biscuits.
Biscuits supreme is a recipe I grew up on. It’s a favorite in my Ya-ya’s recipe box, given to her by her mother, my Nee-nee. If you search “biscuits supreme”, you’ll get a good number of similar biscuit recipes with slight variations. As far as I can tell, the original came from a midcentury Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and like so many other recipes, was passed down through countless families like a delicious game of telephone.
On a Christmas visit, shortly after I moved to Tennessee, my Ya-ya gave me the recipe printed on an index card in her angular handwriting—one of the few family recipes we have that’s actually written down with measurements and full instructions.
I wish my handwriting was half as interesting as hers, or my great aunt’s whimsical swooping letters. Both should be fonts. I’ve tried for years to copy them from sticky notes and birthday cards to make my own version, but it’s never quite right.
I’m better at emulating their cooking skills, which brings us back to biscuits. To round out the connection, I do like to experiment with things to put my own spin on them. Millennials, amirite?
Why mess with a good thing? Because butter.
I reaaaaally wanted to use butter. The original recipe calls for shortening, which I’m not opposed to using, but I do try to keep use of heavily processed ingredients to a minimum. It was a product of it’s time and it makes total sense here, but butter brings the flakiness in a way shortening can’t.
The first time I tried to make biscuits (not my family’s recipe, a random one I found online), I ended up with a crunchy disc. Pretty tasty… but more like a cookie than a biscuit. English biscuit? Um, maybe (no). Definitely not making the cut in Tennessee or West Virginia.
These biscuits on the other hand. These. Biscuits. Tall and tan and flaky and buttery. These are the biscuits from Ipanema.
Butter makes a difference because as it cooks, it turns to steam and leaves pockets. That’s why the best biscuits have streaks around the middle like the dough is stacked in layers—it is! The thing is, using butter isn’t enough.
If you just mix the butter in any way you want, those pockets won’t form. If you want flaky, pull-apart layers, you need the right technique. Conventional advice I’ve always heard says to cut cold butter in, then mix it in with your fingers until you have pea-sized chunks.
The misshapen one with the arrowhead-shaped top is the last cut, made of scraps. If you’re worried about presentation, just skip it (or make it and scarf it down directly out of the oven before anyone sees it).
It’s a good start, but there’s a better way if you want a next-level biscuit. I looked to one of my favorite books, Cooks Illustrated’s The Science of Good Cooking for some sage advice.
I think the biggest help the book offers is the idea of fraisage and lamination—stay with me here, we’re not talking about covering it with plastic. We’re talking flattening the butter and folding it into the dough in layers in this form of lamination, meanwhile fraisage is a French technique where you smear butter into a dough with the heel of your hand. Think about the buttery strips when you tear into a croissant, or a pie crust falling apart and melting in your mouth. Mmmm.
The book suggests flattening the butter rather than breaking it up into pea-sized chunks, keeping it nice and cold until baking time and folding the dough over onto itself several times.
We’ll do a rustic version, because as much as I love learning about food science, most people probably don’t want cooking to feel like lab work. I’d personally love to work in a test kitchen, but I’m pretty short on time most days in real life.
Besides, sometimes I just want to feel more artist than scientist, you know? We’ll riff on it.
My family’s recipe already used two of the book’s tips. First, a little shortening is actually a good thing. I’ve always seen shortening as a) one of those supposedly healthy fats that turned out to be worse than butter, and b) a foolproof way to make dough come together. Butter is difficult to work with, but shortening is hard to mess up.
That is true, but it’s also a hasty generalization. I teach public speaking, so we can’t have that. Turns out it serves a separate purpose too—it helps keep the biscuits tender by reducing the moisture content and forming a weaker gluten structure. Weak gluten = tender. Who knew?
Our family recipe also features two leaveners, which the book recommends, in the form of baking powder and cream of tartar. I left the leaveners the same, but I changed the milk to buttermilk, which changes the acidity and reacts to them a little differently. I think it balanced out pretty well.
It’s fun looking at how these recipes handed down through the years stand up to science-based techniques. Possibly one of the most fun things is that you don’t have to care if you like it the way you already do it. There’s rarely only one “right” way to do something.
I love my family’s classic biscuit recipe, and I love that my Ya-ya makes them for me with creamed turkey when I come home. I love how simple the recipe is to put together. I love that it tastes like what her family sat down to eat during a time I can only imagine. I love reading it in her handwriting and hearing the instructions the way my Nee-nee must have taught her.
It’s also incredible that knowing the concepts of lamination and fraisage help me understand croissants, pie crust, puff pastry, certain breads, other biscuits, scones… and they get me thinking about how I can play with other recipes for a similar effect. Is it possible to make a biscuit or croissant cookie hybrid? Is that already a thing people are standing in line for in Brooklyn? What would you call it? I just googled what I thought it would be called, and that is a different thing. Don’t worry about it.
Allow me to distract you with an action shot:
This week is super-fun because I’ll be posting TWO recipes. I’ve been pretty inconsistent lately, I know. I doubt anyone is visiting daily to see if I’ve updated (though, please tell me if you do, because I will die), but I do want to at least follow my own content calendar. I have this anxiety that my strategic communications students will find my blog and berate me for not sticking to the standards I hold them to.
“Mrs. Cavalier, you’re not posting consistently enough,” they say, in my anxiety-fueled nightmares. “Did you even set objectives? No one is going to stick around if you don’t give them content to come back for and serve them. That’s what you said.”
YES I SAID IT. And it’s true. Class, if you’re here, it takes SO long to grade your stuff. I love you all anyway. And to anyone who does come here regularly, I really am sorry. I’m working on it. Did I mention I’m also a football sideline reporter and caterer on the weekends? Because this has been a long, rough semester.
Anyway, I submitted final grades at about 3 a.m. Saturday, and I’m ready to get back to work. That’s why later this week I’m posting a recipe for one of my favorite recipes ever: creamed turkey.
Yuuuup Brooke County (West Virginia) people, get ready.
If that sounds a little suspect to you, I get it. But I promise, creamed turkey is legendary. It is the comfort food of comfort foods.
While you’re here, I’d love to hear what your favorite family recipes are! Let me know in the comments at the end of this post what recipe is most treasured in your family, and whether you’ve tried it out for yourself.
If you make this biscuit recipe, I’d love to hear about it! Just comment below, or post a photo to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tag me! You could also use the “tried it” feature on Pinterest. I’m always happy to answer questions as well.