The wonderful world of biscuits

Carrie Morey makes biscuits for Association of Food Journalists

There are so many bad biscuits in the world. Greasy ones that leave sludgy rings on the plate. Salty ones that reek of packages and industrial mixers. Here’s a hint: Anything handed to you out a drive-through window is not going to be a good biscuit. Why do we love these little things so much that fast-food joints will try to capitalize on our affection? When made well, biscuits are simple, warm bits of cloud. Put some good ham inside them and you have perfection for breakfast. Well, that’s what I think as a Southerner.

Naturally, being in Charleston, S.C., the subject of biscuits was bound to come up at the Association of Food Journalists’ recent conference.  We got two views of biscuits, actually. Carrie Morey, owner of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, demonstrated biscuit-making for the group. She is one fast, biscuit-making machine, and no wonder. The company, which has been featured on the Today show, Food Network and in Martha Stewart Living, produces about 1 million biscuits a year – all by hand.

Morey started with 5 pounds of self-rising flour (she prefers a lower gluten flour, such as White Lily). Into that she worked – by hand – 1 1/2 pounds of cream cheese and 1 pound of butter, both at room temperature.

What? No pastry blender? No ultra-cold butter? That’s right. The secret in her technique must be how fast she works, sliding the mixture through her hands and fingers like water. “I’m looking for the feeling,” she said. “It should feel like a grated Parmesan cheese texture.” When it hit the proper texture, Morey made a well in the center of the mixture, then poured in 1/2 gallon of cold, full-fat buttermilk. Not low fat. The good stuff. She rolled the very moist dough on a floured surface to a good inch of thickness. It’s a very soft dough. Flouring the biscuit cutter helps to cut the dough quickly with a snap – no twisting, which seals the edges and prevents the biscuit from rising. In the parchment-lined baking pan, “biscuits like to touch,” Morey said, and the sides gently nudged. She bakes them at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

Then, cookbook author Nathalie Dupree showed her biscuit style. Dupree, who most recently wrote “Southern Biscuits” (Gibbs Smith, $21.99) has a simpler technique. She also insists on lower gluten flour. Her recipe: 2 cups self-rising flour and 1 cup yogurt thinned with a little water or whipping cream. That’s it. She said that the acid in yogurt serves the same function as buttermilk. A neat trick that she demonstrated was using a flexible plastic cutting board to roll the dough. She placed the dough in it, folded it over and patted it, then unrolled it for cutting. She thought of the idea while demonstrating for TV shows, to keep flour from flying all over during the conventional way of rolling out on a counter. “It gives it layers,” she said. Dupree also had thoughts about biscuit placement: “If you want crispy biscuits, put them far apart. If you want tender biscuits, have them touching.”

See a slide show of Carrie Morey making biscuits here.