Southern biscuits for a Yankee girl 

Hot Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits

Dear Scott Peacock:

You and I have known each other for many years without ever having met. We've got mutual friends and associates in the food biz, and I've had the pleasure of brunching in your dining room at Watershed, but alas, a meeting of the minds has yet to materialize.

Maybe you know I'm from up North, where nobody in the fast lane knows much about slow food like grits or field peas. Heck, I didn't know what okra was until I was in my 20s! Seven, eight years ago, I began to dabble in Southern cooking, but not until the 2003 release of The Gift of Southern Cooking, the cookbook you wrote with Miss Lewis, did I feel like I was getting a proper education. I've cut my teeth on your okra pancakes, sour-milk cornbread, and of course, the "Very Good Chocolate Cake," which is an understatement.

Over the past five years, I think I've boned up pretty well for a Yank, but as with any cuisine, there is always more to learn. Flaky biscuits have long topped my wish list, and frankly, I was downright intimidated. But when I saw the photo of your luscious biscuits on the cover of Gourmet last month, and Miss Lewis' posthumous essay about what is Southern and your interview, well, I took it as a sign.

It was time to make biscuits.

Love, Kim O'Donnel

P.S. I sure hope we stop meeting like this.

Hot Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits

From The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock

5 cups sifted white flour made from soft wheat (Peacock prefers White Lily)

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (homemade version: combine 1/4 cup cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons baking soda and measure out what you need)

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1/2 cup cold lard

1 1/4 cups cold buttermilk

A few tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add lard, and working quickly, coat it in flour and rub between your fingertips until about half the lard is finely blended and the other half remains in large pieces, about 1/2 inch in size. Pour in buttermilk, and stir quickly just until dough is blended and begins to mass.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and with floured hands, knead briskly 8 to 10 times, until it becomes cohesive.

Gently flatten dough with your hands into a disk of even thinness; then, using a floured rolling pin, roll it out to a uniform thickness of 1/2 inch. With a dinner fork dipped in flour, pierce the dough at 1/2-inch intervals.

Lightly flour a 2 1/2- or 3-inch biscuit cutter and stamp out rounds, without twisting the cutter in the dough. Cut biscuits from dough as close together as possible for maximum yield. Transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet, placing them so they barely touch. Don't reroll the scraps. Just arrange them around the edge of the sheet and bake – cook's treat.

Place baking sheet immediately on center rack of oven. Bake 10-12 minutes, checking after 6 minutes, turning pan if needed for even baking. When biscuits are golden brown, remove from oven and brush tops with melted butter.

Makes about 15 biscuits.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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