THE PERFECT BUTTERMILK BISCUIT Thanks to Eula Mae Dore, a great Southern cook from Avery Plantation, La., I've learned to make the best Buttermilk Biscuits I've ever had. Eula Mae says a good biscuit is one of the best things to have on hand for quick meals. She uses them in emergencies to make simple sandwiches filled with scraps of ham or cheese and serves them with pickles and a small salad. For dessert, she warms a biscuit or two and makes a shortcake with fresh fruits or berries. She has convinced me that you can't have too many biscuits on hand. Eula Mae learned to cook and bake from her grandmother, not from cookbooks, and the artfulness of her preparation was a joy to watch. Here are some of her biscuit-making tips: + First go out and replace your baking powder, unless you bought it within the last four months. More baking flops occur from old, tired baking powder than from any other cause. And don't rely on spoonful in a glass of water to see if it fizzes. Baking powder, like a carbonated drink, can fizz a little and still be almost flat. Buying new baking powder costs very little when you consider the cost of baking failures. + Next, Eula Mae insists that sifting the dry ingredients four times is the reason her biscuits are perfect. I tested the recipe sifting and not sifting and, indeed, sifting does make a slightly higher, more tender biscuit. + After you cut the biscuit dough, put the pieces on a baking sheet upside down. This the pressure of the cutting don't interfere with the rise. (The French use the same trick when making puff pastry.) + The tip that helped me the most was using less flour than usual. Eula Mae's dough was soft and sticky. She handled it gently, dusting her hands and the dough with only enough flour to make the dough manageable. The result was a lighter biscuit. :
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