EVERY COOK has certain favorite recipes that she/he returns to time and again over the years. The recipe may have been passed along from your parents or grandparents or friend, from a favorite cookbook, your personal from-scratch-recipe, or perhaps a uniquely-your-own adaptation of someone else’s recipe.
In my mid-teens I joined a mail order cookbook club. This was the 1960’s, way before the web, food blogs, and on-line recipe sites were available to browse and gather inspiration from when you wanted to cook. I was in high school, living in Berkeley California with my sister and our parents near Ashby Avenue. Mom appreciated my cooking efforts since she was working full-time as well as running our household. I began cooking main course entrees (usually a meat dish in my pre-vegetarian days), quickly got interested in gourmet desserts, and from there expanded into baking-from-scratch….my real culinary love.
The Cookbook Club enticed new members with an irresistible offer of several books of your choice, steeply discounted from their resale price. Members had to commit to purchasing 4 other books during the year to stay in good standing. One offering was a humble, marvelous (now out-of-print) cookbook “A World of Breads” by Dolores Casella, illustrated with etchings by Loretta Trezzo, and published by David White Company, New York, 1966.
In the foreword, Mrs. Casella writes “The history of bread begins with wheat, and wheat originated as a grass, in the fertile valleys of the Middle East before history began. The first known written reference to baked bread was found on a clay tablet from Sumer about 2600 BC. Wheat growing and bread baking figure largely in Egyptian tomb paintings and carvings, and it was the Egyptians who discovered the secret of leaven and invented the first oven.” She mentions how Greek & Roman cultures improved the art of milling & baking, and began hybridizing wheat varieties. With the discovery of the New World, corn (maize) was introduced into the American colonists diets. She says “Every popular corn dish known today was known and prepared in both Americas.” And continues “The nineteenth century brought to the United States a great influx of immigrants from all parts of Europe…The American table today is laden with the wealth of breads of many countries…this book represents that wealth. Here are breads from all over the world–both Americas, all of Europe, the Middle East, the Far East.”
“A World of Breads” includes simple recipes for North American staples like biscuits, muffins, and cornbread; East Indian rotis like chappaties, puris, and parathas; Cornell [University] breads nutritious enough to sustain life healthily if one drank water and ate bread and butter alone; to elaborate yeast-raised, fruit studded, European holiday bread recipes, stuffed pizzas, and the like. Some recipes I’ve never made – those with eggs or lard in their list of ingredients – since I became a lacto-vegetarian by the time I was 20.
Biscuits, Muffins, Popovers is the title of Chapter 2. The pages of that chapter are bent and spattered like many of the others from decades of laying open on the kitchen counter, while our meals were being prepared. Hot buttermilk biscuits with butter are SO yum! It’s easy to whip up a batch with basic ingredients, flour, butter, buttermilk, salt, baking powder & baking soda. Southern Buttermilk Biscuits is the third recipe, and goes as follows:
Southern Buttermilk Biscuits (pg. 12)
Mrs. Casella’s introduces the recipe by writing:
Not beaten biscuits, but very good.
4 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour [organic]
1/2 teaspoon fine [sea] salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup butter [organic]
1-1/4 cup buttermilk
Sift the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients as for pastry. *Cynthe’s TIP: I cut the butter into 1/4 inch slices and then use a pastry cutter to mix it in. (Pastry cutter shown in photo above.) When the particles are about the size of small peas, add the buttermilk, and stir just until thoroughly moistened. *Cynthe’s TIP: I use a large serving fork, lifting the mixture from the edges of the bowl, until not much loose, dry flour remains in the mixing bowl. You may need to add more buttermilk to get the dough to the right consistency.
Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board. *Cynthe’s TIP: If there’s a little dry flour in the bowl, there’s no need to sprinkle the cutting board with flour. Knead 10 times — NO more. *Cynthe’s TIP: This is very little. Count EACH push! Pastry, Pie, and Biscuit dough is best when not over kneaded to leave the butter in to separate the flour into flaky layers. Roll or pat to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut into rounds or hearts (Cynthe’s fav) with a large cutter and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 450F oven for 15 minutes or until slightly golden brown and done.
Recipe Options: You may substitute 1/3 to 1/2 cup bran flakes for the same amount of flour. Or add 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese to dry ingredients. Or use sour cream in place of buttermilk and decrease butter to 1/3 cup.
If you’ve used cool butter (not super cold) and a ‘light hand’ kneading the dough, the biscuits will rise nicely and turn out soft, flaky, and delicious!
Southern Buttermilk Biscuits are nice for breakfast or brunch, lunch or dinner, with the topping of your choice, butter & jam, maple syrup, or savory spreads. A versatile quick bread they can be served alongside so many dishes, eggs & omlettes, soups, stews, chili beans (see our special vegetarian chili bean recipe), a hearty salad, or eaten as a snack.