February 20, 2012

Drop Biscuits with Fried Basil and Maple Bacon

Folks, biscuits of any type - provided they are correctly baked and not over-mixed - are superior to all other breakfasts. My grandmother makes raised yeasty biscuits and serves them with utterly delicious and savory sausage gravy. Buttermilk biscuits à la my chicken pot pie topping are excellent served plain and hot, with lots of apple butter and jam. Sweet or savory, for breakfast or for supper, really good buttermilk biscuits are an essential staple of every gourmand.

I feel very strongly about biscuits. The vast majority of restaurants gets biscuits plain wrong. And biscuits in "other" (non-Southern) cookbooks are too buttery, salty, greasy, or cakey. The best, absolute best breakfast biscuit I have ever had made outside of the kitchens of cooks I trust was at a sweet little brunch locale in Savannah, a place called B. Matthew's Eatery. (Get the Eggs Benedict or the B. Matthew's Basic Breakfast. Holy smokes.) This biscuit was everything that I love about biscuits: light, fluffy, hot, with a sprinkle of dusted flour leftover from homemade batter that didn't quite get baked through. No superfluous butter. No greasy layers. Grandmother's raised biscuits are like this, as are Bill Neal's buttermilk biscuits that I make with that chicken pot pie.

There is one biscuit in the world that breaks my biscuit rules. And it is from a non-Southern cookbook. I know it must be sacrilege, but if you treat these biscuits right, with good flour (I like King Arthur), good butter (no store brands, as they contain more water and ergo less good butter), and lean buttermilk (cream makes these into scones, not biscuits), then they are just as tasty as my Southern favorites. With that, I share with you the Cook's Illustrated drop biscuit.

Drop biscuits are like heaven. They are inherently richer than regular buttermilk biscuits but perfect for cobbler or pie toppings, and in my case, perfect for a late Saturday morning brunch with maple-glazed bacon. I made these drop biscuits for my fiancé's birthday last year, complete with fried sage and two kinds of banana pudding (coming soon to Magnolia Cooks). They sat aside platters of North Carolina barbecue from Allen & Sons (so good they don't need a website), hushpuppies, slaw, and deviled eggs. So I tell you, friends, these northern biscuits can be dressed up as Southern as you like. Make it happen.

The main difference between this biscuit and a traditional buttermilk biscuit is the incorporation of butter over shortening. In a drop biscuit, the butter is melted and combined with cold buttermilk until the mixture forms little yellow butter clumps. This biscuit batter is stickier and more fluid than your basic rolled biscuit dough, and the result is a biscuit that is rich and buttery - but in a good way. Promises.

In all this biscuit discourse, bacon really takes a back seat. I found that the maple bacon (a recipe that my brother developed) really complemented these delicious, hot biscuits. To top it off, we made half the biscuits with fried basil and the other half plain, for the non-adventurous biscuit people among us (which were none). Do yourself and your family a huge favor by serving these biscuits steamy hot from the oven with warm maple bacon, fresh fruit, and plenty of jams and jellies.

Drop Biscuits
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

10 ounces all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

If adding basil, fry 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves in about a teaspoon of light olive oil. When crispy and fragrant, transfer to paper towel and pat dry. Let cool for a couple of minutes before adding to biscuit dough.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Sift together dry ingredients and set aside. Combine melted butter and buttermilk and stir until the mixture forms small clumps. 

With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, combine flour and buttermilk mixture until just incorporated. Do not overmix! You do not want to end up with rubbery biscuits.

Scoop out biscuits onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 14 minutes, or until tops are crisp and golden. 

Maple Bacon

10-12 strips thick-cut bacon (I prefer low sodium)
1/4 cup real maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay bacon strips on rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with half of syrup. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until bacon is crisp and sizzling. Remove from oven and drizzle with the rest of the syrup. Return pan to oven for another 2-3 minutes, until bacon is crisp and smells delicious. Bacon will be sticky so take care when transferring to a serving plate.

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