When I visit my family in Indiana, or make breakfast for my husband, I frequently ask them what are they hungry for. Without exception, everyone asks me to make biscuits & gravy. And it one of my very favorite breakfasts, too.
Believe it or not, I didn’t eat biscuits & gravy until I was in my 20’s. It wasn’t something my mother or grandmothers made. While all three women were phenomenal bakers, rarely did any of them make biscuits. I’m not sure why. Biscuits are as easy and quick as many other delicious favorites.
What’s not to love about a freshly baked hot biscuit? Buttery and flaky, made into a breakfast sandwich, or slathered with jam, or smothered in sausage gravy, good biscuits are highly coveted. For the last 30 years or so, I’ve basically used the same biscuit recipe from the Fannie Farmer Baking Cookbook. And they weren’t bad. My family always complimented me.
But then I saw an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Featured was Pine State Biscuits in Portland, Oregon. Oh my – my biscuit world was transformed. See, I’ve never used butter in my biscuits, always vegetable shortening. The secret, according to Pine State, is to grate the cold butter into the flour. I’d never thought of that. What happens is the cold butter quickly incorporates into the flour without over-mixing – the bane of proper biscuit making. Because the butter stays in bits, the golden jewels puff up light and flaky. Go ahead to Pine State’s website (link above) and watch the Triple D video. If you’re a biscuit lover as I am, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s how the magic happens:
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Remember, when the biscuits hit a very hot over, the water is released from the butter, forming layers.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine 3 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 Tablespoons baking powder, 2 Tablespoons sugar (a holdover from my old recipe) and 1 teaspoon salt. Give the processor a couple of pulses to mix the dry ingredients.
Take a stick of cold butter from the refrigerator, and cut it into little cubes. I cut the butter into quarters, lengthwise, then cut across the strips. Drop the butter cubes into the flour mixture in the processor, and give the mix a few pulses until the butter is incorporated into the flour, but you can still see chunks of butter in the mix. It should look something like this:
If you look at the flour, you can see little chunks of butter covered in flour.
Dump the ingredients from the food processor into a mixing bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk, and stir with a fork until the dough just begins to come together. Not all the flour will be wet, but that’s OK. (Some folks will mix the buttermilk into the flour using the food processor, but I tend to over-mix the dough – the bane of proper biscuits, so that’s why I stir the buttermilk and flour in a bowl. I have more control.)
Cooking Tip: Did you know you can substitute plain Greek yogurt for buttermilk? I searched and found a substitution chart at KosherEye.com – this also looks like an awesome website! Commonly, cooks make buttermilk substitutions using milk and vinegar. I think using Greek yogurt produces a consistency similar to buttermilk, so I prefer to use that. Stir 2/3 cup of Greek yogurt and 1/3 cup buttermilk or whole milk. Voilà!
Empty the bowl ingredients onto a lightly floured surface. Gently begin to knead the dough together using a bench scraper to bring together the wet and dry ingredients, until the dough forms a ball – 10-15 turns. Pat the dough into a rectangle. To encourage the formation of biscuit layers, fold the dough onto itself in thirds. Pat the dough into another rectangle, and repeat. Add more flour to the work surface, if you need it, but don’t over do it. Roll or pat the biscuit dough into a rectangle about 1/2″ thick.
See what happens? You have a nice pat of lovely biscuit dough. Can you see the chunks of butter? That’s what you want. Work quickly. Use your bench scrapper to help keep everything together. All is well.
This is my Grandma Smith’s biscuit cutter. It’s about 3″ in diameter. Grandma used to have a diner, so I suspect she used this many times. After 60 years, maybe longer, the edge of the cutter is still sharp. Use whatever cutter you want. And feel free to make the biscuits larger or smaller, depending on the number of servings you need. I’ve even been known to use cookie cutters to make heart or Christmas tree shapes.
Place the biscuit rounds on a baking sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper. Pop into the oven, and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the little jewels have nicely risen (more like exploded) and become “golden, brown and delicious.” (Sorry, Mr. Brown – that phrase runs through my head, as familiar as a nursery rhyme.)
Look at them! So delicious, my mouth is watering! The misshapen biscuit made from biscuit dough scraps is highly desired. It’s also good to nibble on while the sausage gravy finishes.
OK, now it’s time for the gravy. I usually start this process before I begin the biscuits, and the sausage gravy thickens and is finished by the time the biscuits are out of the oven.
In a 10″ iron skillet, brown a pound of bulk breakfast sausage. You can use sausage seasoned any way you like: mild, hot & spicy, sage. Use turkey sausage, of you prefer. However, if the sausage has a high fat content, I drain it before making the roux.
Add 3-4 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour to the cooked sausage. Stir it around in the skillet, until you can no longer see raw flour. Continue to cook for another minute.
Add 2 cups of whole milk, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon dried sage. Stir everything together. Reduce the heat to low. Continue to stir while the biscuits are baking, until the gravy thickens.
Behold, your reward! If you’re in the mood for a carbohydrate overload, you can serve hash browns along side, or a fried or scrambled egg. I like to top mine with several drops of Tobasco Green Jalapeno Sauce. Yummmmmmy!
- For the Biscuits
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ Tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoon sugar, optional
- ½ stick or 8 tablespoons very cold butter cut into pieces
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- For the Gravy
- 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage, mild, hot & spicy, sage or turkey
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3-4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried sage, optional
- 2 cups whole milk, room temperature
- For the Gravy
- Brown the sausage in a 10" skillet in vegetable oil. If the sausage has a high fat content, drain the sausage in a strainer, and return to the skillet.
- Over medium-low heat, add the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon, until the flour is completely dissolved. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the salt, pepper, and sage. Stir and cook briefly.
- Add the milk all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to low. Continue to stir and cook, until the the gravy becomes thick. Try not to let the gravy boil, but maintain a temperature high enough to keep the gravy warm.
- If the gravy becomes too thick, add a little milk to keep it the desired consistency.
- For the Biscuits
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar, if using.
- Give the dry mixture a couple of pulses to evenly distribute the ingredients.
- Cut the stick of butter in half lengthwise, and half lengthwise again. Cut the butter crosswise to form little cold butter cubes. It is important that the butter is very cold. You can do this step first, before any of the other steps, and return the cubes to the refrigerator to keep them chilled.
- Add the butter cubes to the flour in the food processor. Give the mixture a few quick pulses, until the butter is cut into the flour, but you can still see butter chunks.
- Pour the flour/butter mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk, and stir with a fork, until the dough just comes together. It's OK if the dough is not completely mixed and some dry flour remains.
- Dump the dough onto a floured surface. Using a bench scraper, begin to bring the ingredients together. Quickly knead the dough 10-15 times, until the ingredients come together.
- Pat the dough into a thick rectangle. Using the bench scraper, fold the dough over onto itself in thirds. Pat again into a rectangle, and repeat the folding process.
- Pat the biscuit dough into a rectangle approximately ½" thick. You should be able to see chunks of butter across the surface.
- Using a biscuit cutter 2-3" in diameter, cut the dough. Place the rounds on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper.
- Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes, until golden, brown, and delicious.
- To serve, split the hot biscuits on a plate. Smother with sausage gravy.
If you're making for a crowd, double or triple the recipe. Keep the sausage gravy warm in a crock pot set on low.