Saturday, July 17, 2021

Biscuits, Sourdough, and Small Town Cookin'

 Like many people this year I spent some of my time in isolated self-quarantine in the kitchen trying my hand at baking. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed cooking, and to my wife’s joy, I do most of the cooking at the Walker compound. This year I extended my repertoire to baking. Before now my baking interests were limited to cornbread and biscuits, the foundation of oven work in the Walker family. This year I got into sourdough big time and can finally turn out a good loaf that looks and tastes table-worthy. 
I have been intrigued by the ideas of sourdough biscuits, an attempt to marry my new interest to my family traditions. Online research turned up lots of recipes most of which were too involved for me to attempt. Biscuits are q quick bread, not just quick to cook but quick and easy to make whether the baker is bleary-eyed at six am or faced with extra company for dinner and no bread in the house. 

I was looking through one of those community cookbooks that we found at an estate sale and came across an interesting and simple, biscuit recipe. It seems every community big enough to have a name has produced a community cookbook, and they must be a staple around the United States. Travel the country and you’ll these little stapled or plastic-bound books with the favorite recipes of the town's most confident cooks, and the recipes usually have a regional flavor. And, because these are labors of love by amateur editors, they are fraught with typos, redundancies, and confusing instructions. Thrift stores, yard sales, and Aunt Martha are great sources for them if you are looking for interesting local recipes. Obviously, these recipes aren’t tested like the ones in the recipe book you paid thirty-nine ninety-five for, and sometimes they are confusing or incorrect. They also are full of vagaries like the biscuit recipe I found, “Bake until done.”
As I said, I was looking for a simple biscuit recipe that used my sourdough starter for flavor and leavening. This one had promise. Simple procedures and a short ingredient list.

Yes, I told myself, this is just what I’m looking for. The Instructions were simple too.
I had some starter brewing on the kitchen counter, so last night I decided to make a test batch of sourdough biscuits using this recipe. But I have to say, that looks like a hell of a lot of flour. My gut was telling me that even with the vagaries of sourdough starter this recipe couldn’t take more than two cups. I started with one cup of flour with more flour on standby, added the dry ingredients mix them, and then added a tablespoon of coconut oil since I didn’t have shortening. —I left shortening behind long ago. Butter or coconut oil is healthier and tastier. Olive or canola oil might work too. Then I added my sourdough starter and stirred. This made a nice firm dough that didn’t seem to need any more flour. I shaped eight small biscuits by hand and rolled them in oil as instructed. I baked them at 425 in my toaster oven which took about ten minutes. 
These raised well, turned golden brown and tasted great with a nice burst of sour flavor. 
I wouldn’t go to the trouble of rolling these in oil. In the future, I will oil my hands while shaping my biscuits and this will add enough oil for that crispy brown crust. 
Here’s my revised recipe for those of you who want to try it. I won’t go into the gastronomic and microbiological rabbit hole of sourdough starters you can find plenty of those elsewhere. 

                                            Quick and Simple Sourdough Biscuits

1 cup active sourdough starter

1-1.5 cup flour 

1 teaspoon each of baking soda, salt, & sugar

1 tablespoon of shortening

Cooking oil for coating

              1. Mix dry ingredients
              2. Add starter and mix into a firm dough
              3. Divide dough into eight equal parts and with Oil on your hands form eight, round biscuits (These could be cut with a biscuit cutter too I imagine and brushed with oil)
              4. Fit biscuits close together in a baking pan and press each down to about 1/2 inch tall. 
              5. Let rest on the counter for 30-40 minutes
              6. Bake at 425 until golden brown, about 9-10 minutes

These can be prepared overnight and the baking pan set in the fridge or somewhere else cool until morning to bake and serve hot at breakfast. 

So there you have it, a sourdough biscuit that is easy and tasty. Don’t be afraid to add a quarter cup of shredded cheese or other snappy flavors. I can imagine using this as a basis for some sourdough scones — more on that later. Keep an eye out for those community cookbooks; you just might find a culinary treasure.