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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ode to a biscuit

Steinbeck's, Atlanta, GA
A well made biscuit is a thing of beauty, and emblematic of American Southern hospitality. I used to dislike these biscuits, preferring the British biscuits (what we in America would call "cookies"), but then again, I was having mediocre biscuits. And they are so easy to do wrong. 

I've since learned that biscuits, like pie crusts, need a deft hand, and a respect for the fickle nature of flour. Warm from the oven, fluffy, tender and crusty, a good biscuit practically falls apart at the touch. A key ingredient to this character is the use of low gluten flour - almost always from the White Lily line. The robust chew of developed gluten, prized in regular yeast bread, is anathema to the biscuit. I wonder if biscuits were developed in the South from flour that were deemed too inferior to making into more expensive bread. Nonetheless, one should not take away from the skill of the baker with hands quick and gentle enough to craft good biscuits.

Black pepper biscuits with uni, Moneycat Brunch, Houston, TX
Related to the biscuit in the more sweet domain are scones. Also quickly assembled, the main difference is the higher proportion of fat in the scone recipe, usually in the form of cream or butter. This really tenderizes the crumb, as gluten development relies on the presence of water. Conceivably, scones and biscuits could be made entirely gluten-free, possibly using tapioca, milk powder, or eggs as the unifying matrix.

Scones with keffir lime butter, Moneycat Brunch, Houston, TX

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