A case of biscuit fever

What is the one food you cannot live without?

For me, it is bread, the staff of life. I need a French baguette or Spanish pan del día to sop up sauce. I need thick chunks of rustic Italian farmhouse bread to slather on real, full-fat butter and homemade jam. I need freshly pressed tortillas to assemble fajitas. I need cornbread to clean a messy plate of barbecue and beans. And, now that I’m in the South, I need biscuits.

The ones by Flora and Flour owner-baker Lauren Raymond are outstanding. Her rotation of biscuit sandwiches alone is worth a trip to the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. Flora and Flour also has a location at the new Global Grub Collective food hall in East Atlanta Village. Come hungry, because the bagels rank, too.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon Field Dog Kitchen, a food truck specializing in Southern cuisine. Field Dog Kitchen will begin roaming the streets of Atlanta and other cities in the South in December, but executive chef Kent Graham gave me an early taste. The rustic-looking biscuits are made from an old family recipe and include just three ingredients: self-rising flour, buttermilk and 40-percent heavy cream. They were mighty good, especially with fried chicken slapped in the middle.

At the behest of Atlanta Journal-Constitution food writer Wendell Brock, I tried Home Grown's biscuits with the diner's veggie gravy. That was one heck of a breakfast. It gave me biscuit fever.

I’ve since spent a tankful of gas in search of a $2 baked good and I’ve got miles to go.

Have I been to Flying Biscuit Cafe? Yes. And folks say that Buttermilk Kitchen makes a fine rendition, adding that I need to go check out the ones at Matthews Cafeteria in Tucker. To that list, I'm adding Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, a Charleston, S.C., shop opening an outpost in Virginia Highland in a few weeks.

While compiling this biscuit visit checklist, I received news that Bojangles, the regional fast-food chain known for its fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, had a biscuit maker dreaming big.

Luis Santos has been a Bojangles employee since 2008, working at the busy restaurant at 681 Cobb Parkway North in Marietta. This summer, Santos, along with thousands of other Bojangles employees, entered the company’s annual internal biscuit-making competition, called the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge. Santos took tops at the regional competition, which included franchise restaurants in metro Atlanta and extending into northern Alabama.

I love eating bread, but I also like baking it. There is something so zen about rolling up my sleeves, methodically mixing and rolling dough, and waiting as good smells permeate the house. I’d never had a biscuit tutorial and Santos offered to show me Bojangles’ intricate 48-step process.

For me, it began with putting on a hairnet and thoroughly washing my ink-stained hands. Santos demonstrated how to mix, knead, roll, cut and bake the biscuits: Add the dry biscuit mix to a massive mixing bowl. Use fingers to break up the lumps of shortening in the mix to dime-sized pieces. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Shake the half-gallon carton of buttermilk exactly four times and add it. Combine the wet and dry ingredients together by hand, stopping when the dough becomes slightly stiff because overworking the dough is bad, very bad.

The Bojangles process of rolling dough is doubly involved. There is a particular way to flour the table, press the dough mass, fold it, roll it with two separate pins, cut it and even set the 3½-inch biscuits on the baking tray.

Santos put his batch in the oven, then handed his work station over to me. What took him 5 minutes took me 15.

Into the oven went the rounds. Tick, tock. Out for examination.

He compared my biscuits with those pictured on a color and size chart posted on the wall. Wonder of wonders, he deemed my batch acceptable. We brushed them with butter and I marched them forward to the holding station as I shouted, “Hot fresh Bojangles biscuits,” the last step in the biscuit process.

Santos, who hails from Mexico City, works at Bojangles 50 hours a week to provide for his wife and two young children. He was excited to make the finals in the biscuit competition. And he was proud to represent Atlanta, he told me in his native Spanish. No matter the outcome, he said he’ll be happy to don his uniform, come to work and make biscuits.

“Pongo mucho amor en los biscuits,” he told me. I put a lot of love in the biscuits.

There are many biscuit recipes that yield tasty results. The ones made with love — well, you can taste the difference.

Biscuits around town

Bojangles, multiple locations, bojangles.com.

Buttermilk Kitchen, 4225 Roswell Road N.E, Atlanta. 678-732-3274, buttermilkkitchen.com.

Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, 1004 Virginia Ave N.E., Atlanta. 843-737-5159, calliesbiscuits.com (coming soon).

Field Dog Kitchen food truck. 404-946-9939, fielddogkitchen.com (coming soon).

Flora and Flour, 477 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E, Atlanta. 678-216-7776, floraandflouratl.com.

Flying Biscuit Cafe, multiple locations, flyingbiscuit.com.

Home Grown, 968 Memorial Drive S.E., Atlanta. 404-222-0455, homegrownga.com.

Matthews Cafeteria, 2299 Main St., Tucker. 770-939-2357, matthewscafeteria.com.