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Angel biscuits

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The best biscuit I’ve ever eaten comes from a  fast food restaurant.  Yes, it’s true and most of you may know the chain, their chicken is pretty awesome too.  The biscuit is flaky and buttery and oh so soft.  It’s dangerously delicious and I could easily eat half a dozen in one sitting.  The closest I’ve come to making a similar version is with my Babies Bottom biscuits.  But even those are just close and not an exact match.  I love to make biscuits.  I love gently patting out the dough and using my bench scraper to cut them into perfect squares.  I love to watch them puff up and turn golden aided by an oven cranked up high.  The only problem I have with biscuits is that they don’t last more than a day.  Sure you can eat them the next day but they are just not the same and no amount of  warming in the oven can return them to their original glory.  I hate that.  I’m a gal that likes leftovers and foods that get better with time.  I like stews and pot roasts that taste better after an overnight stay in the fridge.   Sweet quick breads that taste more delicious the next day after the ingredients have gotten to know each other better overnight. I purposely make too much food for Sunday dinner knowing I’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day.  Is it too much to ask to have a biscuits that’s just as good the next day?

Lately I’ve been on a yeast bread kick.  So much so that packages of yeast have  now become one of my baking pantry staples just like  flour and sugar.  As long as I have a packet of  yeast in the pantry I know I am not too far away from fresh bread or pizza.  Yeast breads have a longer shelf life than breads made without yeast.  A regular biscuit recipe using baking powder and butter to give the biscuits crispy, flaky layers is good but the biscuits are best eaten the same day they’re made.   Although I’ve been using yeast to make cinnamon buns, breads, donuts and such I’d never thought to use it to make biscuits.   I’m sure the only reason I made these biscuits is because I had yeast in the pantry and a strong desire to smell something yeasty proofing.   After a quick review of the recipe – I’m familiar with the recipe because it’s in one of my go-to cookbooks but never made it because of an earlier fear of anything made with yeast- I discovered that this recipe did not call for a rise time.   All I had to do was the initial proofing of the yeast for 5 minutes, very little kneading, cut them out and pop them into the oven.  Definitely a quick recipe.  I’d be slathering biscuits with jelly in no time.  Don’ t get me wrong,  I was always very happy with my basic baking powder biscuits, it’s a recipe I’d be proud to hand down to my children and generations to come.  A biscuit made with yeast wouldl just add variety to tried and true traditions.

My families roots are southern.  Where, apparently every grandma makes biscuits from scratch and then passes down the recipe to family members,  that is if she’s willing to give that recipe up.  As much as I visited my grandparents  in North Carolina and Alabama I never knew this.  Because I don’t recall ever eating biscuits when I visited  Alabama and even though we always ate biscuits at my Grandparents in North Carolina, I never once saw my grandma mixing together flour and lard to make biscuits. I do know her biscuits were good and they were always the centerpiece on a well spread out breakfast table.  Because all we ever ate at home were canned biscuits which were pretty darned good, I always assumed my grandmas biscuits were from a can too.  I’m so sorry grandma if , while I was snoozing, you were downstairs in the kitchen covered in flour and lard and I mistakenly claimed your biscuits were canned.  Just know that they were delicious and a part of what I remember about my time visiting with you and grandpa.   Once I learned that every Southern Gal ought to have a knack for making good biscuits from scratch on a whim I set out to do just that.  To be one of those gals who shrugged off making a pan of homemade biscuits as oh it was nothing, pffft, just some flour and butter I threw together.   Although I’m a Northern Girl myself I also consider myself Southern at Heart.

Angel Biscuits (adapted from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster)
Sara Foster owns Fosters Market, a specialty foods store with locations  in Durham and Chapel Hill North Carolina, both not 30 minutes from where my Dad lives.  I’ve not yet gone to her markets on my visits to North Carolina but plan to do so with camera in tow.  According to Sara, Angel biscuits are a North Carolina favorite.  I must ask my family about this the next time I’m down.  These biscuits are amazingly crispy and soft where they should be with hundreds of flaky layers.  Eat them with jelly and honey or better yet slather on some good mustard and a few slices of smoked ham with good cheddar cheese for an out of this world sandwich.
makes 12-15 2 1/2 inch biscuits
1   1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups self rising flour or 3 cups all-purpose flour mixed with 2 teaspoons baking powder, plus more flour for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
8 tablespoons( 1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces, plus more for buttering the baking sheet
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled to room temperature
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly butter a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
Stir the yeast and sugar together in a small bowl.  Stir in 1/4 cup warm water.  Set the bowl in a warm place for about 5 minutes, until the mixture bubbles and doubles in volume.
Meanwhile , stir the flour baking soda and salt together in a large bowl mixing bowl,  Add the shortening and cold butter pieces and cut them into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Add the buttermilk to the yeast and stir to combine.  Pour the buttermilk-yeast mixture into the flour-butter mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough just starts to stick together.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it forms a ball.
Do not add more flour than is needed to keep the dough from sticking and do not mix or work the dough any more than is necessary to bring it together. Barely working the dough ensures light and flaky biscuits.
Roll the dough about 3/4 inch thick and cut with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter, leaving as little space between each cut as possible.  If the dough sticks to the cutter dip the cutter into flour.  You can re-roll biscuit dough scraps once but no more because by then it will be over worked and the resulting biscuits will be tough.
Place the biscuits on the buttered baking sheet. If you want the sides of the biscuits to be soft, arrange the biscuits close together.  If you want the biscuits to be crispy, leave 1 inch between the biscuits.  Brush the biscuits with the melted butter and bake 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
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