Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Southern Comfort: Angel Biscuits

I admit, I really hate writing out recipes on the blog. But since I more or less promised recipes for Angel Biscuits and Country Sausage Gravy, I'm going to try to get this over in one long and one short post, so I can return to my more typical fanciful food flights.



Angel Biscuits (Adapted from The Complete Book of Breads, by Bernard Clayton.)

A really great thing about these biscuits is that you make up the dough in advance and refrigerate it. The author claims you can do so up to 4 or 5 days, but I've never taken it past 3. The tangy buttermilk plus yeast fermentation increases its sour power with each hour. I believe that there would be a point of diminished leavening potential after 3 days.

Ingredients
• 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (Mexican equivalent; Celestial or Sello Rojo Tradicional)
• 1 package dry yeast (about 2 teaspoons)
• 1 tablespoon baking powder (Royal)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (Bicarbonato de sodio)
• 3 tablespoons of sugar (I've cut that sometimes to only 2. The fll quantity is needed, in my opinion, for a prolonged, cold fermentation.)
• 1 teaspoon salt (May be increased to 1 1/2 tsps)
Blend the above ingredients well.
Cut in with a pastry blender, two table knives or finger tips:
• 3/4 cup shortening. Bernard Clayton says "lard preferred", but I typically use a half cup of "Cristal Manteca vegetal" and a 1/3 cup of Kirkland butter. I avoid hard, semi-crystalline shortenings such as "Inka". The particles should be about the size of grains of rice. But if you have a few slightly larger, don't worry.

Add:
•• Two cups of buttermilk, slightly warmed.
Here's the catch. Buttermilk is almost impossible to find in Mexico, so substitutions must be found. Various have been tried: a little vinegar in milk works fairly well; Activia Natural might do, but you'll need to reduce the sugar in the dry ingredients.
Yoghurt natural, sin azúcar could work if thinned out a bit.
I haven't tried Jocoque Libanés. It's also very expensive.

The best liquid buttermilk replacer is SACO dry cultured buttermilk. Pack some into your luggage when coming to Mexico from El Norte, or ask your friends to bring some. (Once the canister is opened, store the remainder in a tightly enclosed container to keep out moisture and to prevent lumping.)

Let's say you lucked out and got some SACO.
Use 4 tablespoons for every cup of water in the dough. SACO must be well mixed with very warm water to combine without lumps. An alternate way is to blend it well with the dry ingredients, then use somewhat warm water to combine the dry ingredients into a rather wet dough. The warm water is also useful in activating the yeast.

Mix the ingredients just until blended. Place in a Pam-sprayed bowl or better, a Pam-sprayed large plastic bag. Close, leaving some room for expansion, and refrigerate, at least overnight. Twenty-four to thirty-six hours is about optimum, IMO.

Baking Day
Preheat oven to 400º F or 205º C.
Get a couple of ungreased cookie sheets, a rolling pin and a small (2 inch or so) biscuit cutter. Mine is an old Vienna Sausage can with one end removed and a few vent holes punched into the other side. (My kinfolk brought it on their mule drawn wagon when they crossed the Cumberland Gap on their way to the State of Arkansaw.)

Flour your work surface well, and take the damp dough out of the bag or bowl. Flatten it to a rough rectagle, and pat or roll out, then fold in thirds. Repeat this at least once, up to three times. (This is why the dough was mixed wet.)

With the rolling pin, roll out the dough sheet to 1/2 inch thick. Lift it and give it a little shake to allow it to shrink back. Reroll if necessary to 1/2 inch. These biscuits will rise mightily.

With a lightly floured cutter, cut straight down, without twisting, and place each biscuit on the cookie sheet with about 2 inch spacing. (Unlike regular biscuits, these bake better if not too close together.)

You may, if you like, lightly brush the tops with melted butter, but it's not really necessary.

Place in the oven for about 15 to 17 minutes, or until the tops are nicely browned. (Here's where a good oven thermometer pays its way. Your kilometraje wil vary with your oven and your elevation above sea level)

Pull one open to be sure the interior is fully baked.
Serve warm with butter, syrup, molasses, honey, jam or Country Sausage Gravy. (Recipe up next.)

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