Friday, April 6, 2012

biscuits & gravy*

spring is taking its time coming to the pacific northwest this year. it actually snowed just a week and a half ago. but everyone's trying to put a brave face on things and the trees are still blooming wildly, so that's heartening. i'm pretty sure spring's just around the corner.

biscuits and gravy seem sort of spring-y to me. i'm not sure why, except that they kind of tread the line between hearty winter food and lighter springtime fare. whatever the season, the richness of the cream gravy plus the lightness of the biscuits makes for a satisfying brunch dish and a great way to start off the weekend.

biscuits are remarkably simple to make. every time i make them, i wonder why i don't do it more often. and while many people no doubt have fondish feelings for the biscuits in a can that puff oozily out when you knock it against something, these are roughly a million percent better.

first, preheat the oven to 450. mix together 10 ounces (~2 c) of flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, ½ a teaspoon or so of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. then add 6 tablespoons of cold butter, cut (as above) into smallish chunks. i think these were each about a centimeter cubed, but the size doesn't matter all that much.

then use your hands or a pastry blender or fork or something to cut the butter into the flour. i was looking for a video of this, but couldn't find one. if you're doing it by hand, you basically just rub the flour and butter between your thumbs and fingertips until the mixture is in kind of coarse crumbs. they don't have to be totally uniform.

then add ½ cup of yogurt and ½ cup of milk (i think it's easiest to mix them together, then add them to the flour mixture) and mix until it just comes together. you want to be careful about not overmixing biscuits, lest they turn into gross tough hockey pucks. word to the wise. use your hands to just push the dough together, then turn it out on a floured surface (i like using a large cutting board, so i don't have to clean stuck-on flour off the countertop) and pat it together (you don't have to be crazy-gentle, but don't like knead it) into a somewhat uniform shape about ½" thick or a little more (maybe even ¾").

cut them out using a cookie cutter or a glass that's 1 ½ - 2” in diameter. or you can make them bigger, of course. you can make them as big as you want! as big as your head!

maybe not that big. if they're bigger, they'll take a little longer to cook, fyi.

i don't make too big a fuss out of making sure all of the biscuits are perfectly round (as is evident above). i figure that if you want fancy, you probably aren't really wanting biscuits and gravy anyway. you can press the little scraps together into more biscuits! more biscuits = better.

i like to put them close together like this, i read somewhere that it helps them rise more. it does, of course, take away somewhat from the crunchy edges, but i also think it keeps them more moist inside. so it's a balance you'll have to strike for yourself. you can place them farther apart if you like. then into the oven with them for about 15-18 minutes (until they're a nice goldeny brown). after 10 minutes, i sometimes drop little bits of butter over the top of each one - it makes the tops even goldener and more delicious.

while they're baking, you can make the gravy. (i actually just wrote "cravy" which, while it should probably be "crave-y," is not an inaccurate reflection on my feelings about gravy). this time, i used some loose turkey sausage, but i often make it vegetarian and it's still totally good. if you're using sausage, cook it in a large pan with relatively deep sides, since you'll be making the gravy in there. you can use whatever amount of sausage you want - probably ½ a pound is plenty, though. once it's cooked (medium heat, break it up into smaller pieces with a spatula, don't get salmonella or something), take it out and set it aside for a bit.

if there is a huge amount of oil in the pan, you can use less butter, but turkey sausage doesn't have much oil, so i used about 1 ½ tablespoons of butter. let it melt, then add 1 ½ - 2 tablespoons of flour. basically you're making a roux. let these cook together for a minute or so, stirring frequently. then start adding milk.

i usually add maybe ¼ cup at first, whisk it into the roux, then keep adding small amounts at a time until it's thick but not like a paste. then you can add a little more milk at a time, like ½ a cup or something. adding the milk slowly and mixing as you do helps it to avoid dreaded lumpiness.

people have different thicknesses of gravy that they prefer, but i would guess that all together for that amount of flour and butter, you'll need maybe 1 ½ - 2 cups of milk. i like thicker gravy, myself, so i would probably stop adding milk around the lower end of that continuum. then add the sausage back into it and cook another couple of minutes over low-medium heat to make sure everything's hotted through. if it starts seeming too thick, you can always add more milk. also make sure to taste it and add salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

once the biscuits are done, split them in half while they're hot, pour a generous helping of gravy over them, and enjoy. they're also not bad with a sunnyside-up egg or two, if you're especially ravenous.

there are a lot of biscuit recipes out there, and this one was cobbled together with ideas from several sources. you can also maybe just use buttermilk, but i thought the yogurt made them extra-tender.

10 oz (2 c) flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
6 tbsp butter, cubes
½ c yogurt
½ c milk
~ ½ tsp (or a little more) salt

~ ½ pound turkey or other sausage (if desired)
1 ½ - 2 tbsp butter
1 ½ - 2 tbsp flour
1 ½ - 2 cups milk
salt & black pepper to taste

*incidentally, i made this particular batch for a now-annual pun-filled oscar party - it was called "The Help yourself to some biscuits and gravy" and joined "midnight in pears" as our contribution.

**since this is essentially a b├ęchamel sauce (without the fussy warming-up-the-milk part), you can also use the basic flour, butter, milk technique, add some grated cheese and maybe a little freshly grated nutmeg, and have a tasty cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, etc. a little mustard instead of the nutmeg is also good. go crazy! you're welcome.

listening to: a spotify playlist of songs that get stuck in my head a lot. includes bishop allen (click, click, click, click) and the national (mr. november)

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