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Whether eaten with a slice of ham or sausage, with gravy or with butter and jam, biscuits are the favorite breakfast quick bread in the Southeastern United States. Fast food restaurants now serve biscuits nationwide, but biscuits are still most popular in the Southeastern U.S.
The Southeastern U.S. was settled primarily by those of English, Irish and Scottish descent, and this is reflected in the region’s food. Biscuits reflect their close kinship with the English scone in texture and method. Biscuits, like scones, are commonly eaten for breakfast with butter and jam. However, Southerners modified the scone recipe somewhat to come up with biscuits.
A basic recipe for biscuits is simple. It calls for flour, baking powder or baking soda, salt, some kind of fat and milk or buttermilk. The cook starts with the flour, sometimes sifting it with the baking powder and salt, and cuts the fat into it, generally with a pastry blender or fork.
The fat used in biscuits may be butter, margarine, shortening or lard. It is always a solid fat, however, and should be ice cold. Cooking oils are not necessary. Cold milk is then poured into a “well” in the mixture and mixed with a fork, or perhaps with the hands, depending on the cook’s preference.
Some cooks drop the dough onto the baking pan and flatten it slightly, while others roll out the dough and cut the biscuits with a cutter. Dropping the dough is less work, but the biscuits will not be as elegantly shaped as with a cutter. Again, personal preference and the consistency of the biscuit dough will determine the method. Biscuits are baked in a moderately hot oven, usually about 400°F (204°C), for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. They are then served hot.
One use for rolled-out biscuit dough is for cinnamon rolls. The cook rolls out the dough in a rough rectangle, spreads the flat surface liberally with butter and sugar, then sprinkles cinnamon over all. The dough is rolled and cut into sections crosswise. Voila! Cinnamon rolls that didn’t have to rise twice. A cook can also get a little fancy with his or her biscuits by adding raisins and cinnamon or cheese and herbs to the batter.
While the biscuits are baking, the cook may want to make gravy, which means heating a small amount of meat fat, such as bacon or ham drippings, in a cast-iron skillet, adding flour, and mixing until smooth. The cook then adds milk, a little at a time, and some salt, and continues mixing. The result is “sawmill" gravy.
Diced tomatoes may also be added to sawmill gravy. “Red-eye” gravy is made the same way, substituting strong coffee for the milk. It is an acquired taste.
A biscuit may also be used for a breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese and bacon, ham or sausage. With a meal, many people prefer hot biscuits spread with butter and preserves, or in rural areas, golden syrup. Even the most confirmed health-food nut will find his scruples wavering when presented with this fragrant, delicious dish. Canned biscuits may be all right in a pinch, but even the new frozen biscuits are of better quality. However, biscuits are so easy to make and so delicious that most people can find the time to whip up a batch in their own kitchen.
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