Growing up in Lawrenceville, Lauren Raymond watched her mother try a different biscuit recipe every Sunday. Her mom was trying to recreate the biscuits she remembered from her South Carolina childhood.
“And she failed miserably,” Raymond says. “Just failed.”
But when Raymond tasted the biscuits at the original Watershed restaurant in Decatur back in 2005, she felt a quiver of recognition. They tasted just like the ones her great aunt (and surrogate grandmother) made when she was young. They were the biscuits her mother had tried — in vain — to bake all those years.
Right then and there, Raymond decided she wanted to work at Watershed so she could master the art of the biscuit.
In 2008, at age 27, she landed a job in the kitchen of the venerable Southern restaurant, now Watershed on Peachtree in Buckhead. There, she learned from the best, soaking up the purist ways of James Beard Award-winning chef Scott Peacock (a disciple of iconic Southern chef Edna Lewis) and Steven Satterfield (now executive chef at Miller Union).
So when you bite into one of the fat biscuits the chef serves at Flora & Flour, her East Atlanta Village pop-up in the Global Grub Collective, you are experiencing a pastry with a considerable pedigree. (After Watershed, Raymond started the pastry programs at Miller Union and The General Muir, where she also perfected the bagel.)
Like Raymond, I grew up with an almost Freudian fear of biscuits. My Mama was a wonderful Southern cook but her biscuits were the opposite of tender: They were like bedrock. Mama eventually gave up because my dad dismissed her efforts as a poor excuse for his mother’s perfect pillows. She stuck to cornbread, and over the years, so have I, mostly.
But after a lesson with Raymond, and trying my hand at a few other biscuit styles, I’ve become a confident biscuit maker. If you follow her advice and our step-by-step photos, so will you.
Raymond believes lard is “the pinnacle of the good Southern biscuit.” (After a few test runs, I agree.) For practical reasons, she uses butter, her preference being Plugra. “It just has to do with the way the butter kind of moves in the flour. You want it to kind of go into a sheet, instead of crumble. I think that’s key. You are trying to create a layer.”
Raymond grates the butter cold, then works it in with her fingers. “A lot of people freeze it,” she says. “Then they grate it and just mix it in and throw it in the oven. There’s no actual integration of the butter and the flour together, so those biscuits are going to be crumbly.”
Raymond is a fan of White Lily flour, but because it’s not available in bulk, she uses unbleached King Arthur flour. (Lucky for us home cooks, White Lily can be found at grocery stores, and Raymond specifies White Lily in the recipe she shares with us.)
As for liquid, Raymond uses a mixture of non-fat buttermilk and heavy cream.
“Why non-fat?” I asked her. “I thought more fat was better.”
True buttermilk, she reminded me, is the liquid that remains when cream is churned to make butter. (There should be little or no fat left.) For biscuit making, “too much fat prevents the liquid and the flour from forming a dough, and it will take more liquid to bring the dough together, and it will be harder to work.” (Look for non-fat buttermilk, but if you can’t find it, go with low-fat.)
Unlike Peacock, and Lewis before him, Raymond doesn’t make her own baking powder from cream of tartar and baking soda. “I can’t imagine that anyone can taste the difference.” She does insist on aluminum-free baking powder.
Like Peacock, she “docks” the biscuit dough by piercing it all the way through with a fork. (That’s why you see the little holes in the top of her biscuits.) This releases steam and allows the biscuit to cook quicker, remain tender and not harden into rocks — like my mother’s.
To build her sandwiches, Raymond likes a biscuit that is brown and sturdy. Commercial ovens generally have burners at the top and bottom, which helps the biscuits brown. Home cooks can cheat by sticking the biscuits under the broiler for a couple of minutes. “I do think color is really important on biscuits,” she says. “I order biscuits everywhere I go. They are always falling apart, and they don’t have any color.”
Above all else, don’t overwork the dough. Work the cold fat in quickly, and don’t over-knead. If you do so, you’ll get a tough biscuit. That was probably her mother’s problem. And my mother’s, too.
Flora & Flour. Inside the Global Grub Collective, 477 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E., Atlanta. 678-216-7776. floraandflouratl.com. Beginning April 11: Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Cathedral of St. Philip. 2744 Peachtree Road NW. peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com
Ideas for biscuit sandwiches
Some people like their biscuits with nothing more than butter — and maybe a dollop of jam. That’s hard to beat. But you can also make biscuits into full-meal sandwiches. Here are some ideas from Flora & Flour chef/owner Lauren Raymond. Feel free to make up your own combinations: fried egg, goat cheese and arugula; sauteed mushrooms and gruyere; country ham and jam; and so on. (I love bacon and pepper jelly with “just a schmear” of pimento cheese.)
1. Sausage and Jam. Just the thing for lovers of sweet-salty combinations, Raymond’s version is stuffed with a sausage patty and blackberry jam that she makes herself.
2. Egg, Feta and Braised Greens. Raymond makes this sandwich with seasonal greens such as collards, kale or spinach.
3. Biscuit with Sausage Gravy (see recipes). Raymond slathers a biscuit-and-a-half with rich, milk-based sausage gravy. The addition of fresh chopped herbs is a nice touch.
4. The Hot Mess. For this jumbo pile, Raymond stacks scrambled egg, sausage, bacon and pimento cheese — and gilds the lily with a side of sausage gravy.
Lauren Raymond’s Buttermilk Biscuits
Flora & Flour’s Lauren Raymond prefers Plugra or Kerrygold butter. We had good success with Land o’ Lakes. Lard can be substituted for butter; just use the same amount.
1 pound (3 1/2 cups) White Lily all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup fat-free buttermilk (may use low-fat)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (optional)
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Using a hand grater, grate cold butter on top of flour. Gently toss flour and butter together; then work the butter into flour with fingers, trying to press the butter into flat sheets. This should only take about a minute. Pieces of butter should remain, but some should be worked into the flour.
Pour cream and buttermilk into middle of bowl; stir with a large spatula or spoon until flour is evenly wet. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface, and knead gently, until dough holds together in a ball. (Add flour to your hands as necessary to keep dough from sticking.) It will take about 10 light kneads for the dough to hold together. Do not overwork it.
Set dough to side, scrape surface if necessary; and lightly re-flour surface. Place dough on floured surface, and using even pressure, press dough with hands until it is about is about 2 inches tall. With lightly floured rolling pin, roll from the center of dough out. Re-flour pin if dough sticks to it. (Don’t sprinkle flour directly on dough.) Continuing to work from the middle and out, roll dough until it is about ¾-inch thick. With a fork, pierce dough all the way through in ½ inch intervals. Dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter in flour, cut biscuits and set on parchment lined sheet tray. (Cut straight up and down; do not twist.) Place biscuits on tray so that they are just barely touching.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Test one of the middle biscuits to see if it is done, either by popping it open or checking the internal temperature with a thermometer. (The biscuit should reach 190 degrees.) If the oven only has a bottom heating element and you like a browner biscuit, place them under the broiler a minute or two.
Brush biscuits with melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven, if desired. (Note: Leftover biscuits can be frozen and reheated later; they will keep for weeks in the freezer in a sealed container or plastic bag.) Makes: About 10-12 biscuits
Per biscuit, based on 10: 333 calories (percent of calories from fat, 51), 6 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 19 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 56 milligrams cholesterol, 565 milligrams sodium.
Lauren Raymond’s Sausage Gravy
1/4 pound ground sausage
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup bacon fat
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Salt, pepper, cayenne and red pepper flakes, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs such as parsley, rosemary or thyme
In a large cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pot, cook sausage over medium-high heat until it is evenly browned, making sure to break up large chunks, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic to pan, and cook over medium heat until onions and garlic are quite soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bacon fat, and stir well. Add flour to the pan slowly, and whisk until no lumps remain. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until flour is lightly browned (about 5 minutes.) Slowly whisk in milk in small batches; cook until gravy is smooth and thick, about 8-1o minutes, whisking regularly. Taste and season with salt, pepper, cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste. Stir in herbs at last second and serve hot over biscuits. Makes: About 1 quart.
Per 1/4-cup serving: 88 calories (percent of calories from fat, 73), 2 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 12 milligrams cholesterol, 81 milligrams sodium.