Flannery Wise details her four attempts at making the perfect southern biscuit –and how to master this iconic American recipe. 


I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone put biscuits and gravy together? Ever? Here’s a hint: the great pioneers of savoury, fattening comfort foods. The southerners.

Although the words biscuit and cookie may sound interchangeable, southern biscuits are actually  closer in taste to dinner rolls. Resembling scones, southern biscuits have a fluffy, bread-like texture. For the finishing touch, biscuits are paired with a thick, milky, gravy full of sausage and pepper.

Strange as they might seem, biscuits and gravy were a childhood staple of mine. Although I grew up in Michigan, my mother is from the south. Despite her accent only appearing when she speaks with my aunt over the phone, or watches Reba reruns, her biscuit recipe is still killer. As a result, I was served these on many a weekend breakfast.

A long way from home and feeling nostalgic, I called her up and asked for the recipe. I assumed that it was simple, considering the presence of only three ingredients. However, I quickly discovered the naivety of this assumption.

The journey of making biscuits was stressful, testing every recess of my psyche. Through four attempts, I learned about my strengths and my weaknesses. I gained insight into the very fabric of my soul. I questioned my heritage- the face of God appeared in my dough, and he said, “Flannery, are you even an American?” I didn’t know how to answer. But what I did know, pretty definitively, were several ways not to make biscuits and gravy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those competent cooks out there, here is my mom’s recipe, (and a few helpful notes of mine):

Biscuits

2 cups self-raising flour (473 ml)
½ cup lightly salted butter (118 ml)
¾ cup buttermilk (177 ml)
1 teaspoon baking powder (6 ml)

Put the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour. Add the buttermilk and knead into dough. It should be fairly stiff. Roll out about 1 cm thick. Cut into circles. Bake at 200 C until golden brown on top (approximately 15 minutes).

Gravy

1 pack fatty Cumberland breakfast sausages

Whole or condensed milk

Pepper

Fry the sausages in a pan. When done, cut as much as you like into small chunks. Pour the grease from the frying pan into a saucepan. On low heat, add flour while stirring until brown. Still stirring, add milk until you have your desired amount of gravy. Should remain thick. Add sausage chunks, and pepper heavily. Stir for about 5 more minutes.

Simple enough, right?

… Right?

My first attempt: A shit show. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Spectacularly. I used plain flour instead of self-raising, and my biscuits turned into actual hockey pucks. Great for flatmate bonding, not so great for eating.

shitshow

The chair is the goal. Guest appearance: my slippers.

I also didn’t understand the meaning of “cut the butter into the flour”. As a dedicated Bake Off fan, I’m ashamed of my interpretation.

cutbutter

Part of a complete breakfast.

I also didn’t realize that my flat did not come equipped with a rolling pin. I had to improvise.

rollinpin

I’m a student — can’t you tell?

Attempt 2: Sheer heartbreak. Everything was perfect. The dough, lovingly folded with lightly salted butter and self-raising flour, was molded into perfect circles and placed, with the utmost care, on my oven shelf. The gravy was simmering. I was set for success. But I became complacent in my perfection, and, alas, I left them in the oven too long. Like magma from a volcano, they became actual rocks. On the bright side, we got to play biscuit hockey again.

Attempt 3: I used plain flour. Again. And I didn’t realize until it was kneaded into dough. I threw it in the bin, accompanied by my hopes and dreams.

sadfacey

Attempt 4: Finally. It all went according to plan. I didn’t burn anything, didn’t use the wrong flour, didn’t create a sport. And the result? Biscuits and gravy, satisfyingly correct. I was very, very proud. I walked around the house, carrying them, saying “Look how fluffy they are, guys!”

perfectbiscuit

In the end, despite all my doubts and questioning, I learned that I am, indeed, an American. I poured my gravy over my biscuits with patriotic pride, and the world seemed a little bit smaller. Hopefully, you can do the same.

 

 

Flannery Wise

 

 

All Photos: Flannery Wise