August 18, 2011

Goat Butter Biscuits with Tomato and Mayo

A tomato and mayo sandwich on a biscuit. I'll stop right there, because I know what you're thinking: I'm already hungry.

This story begins a few months back, this past spring during a spring break road trip to the south. It was there that I discovered the biscuit. It's not as though I'd never had biscuits before, I'd just never had Biscuits. The capital B kind. Because in the south, they don't mess around with biscuits. You don't just throw around the words "warm,"  "buttery" and "flaky" like they're no big deal. Because common as biscuits may be in the south, they're still a big deal.

So me, a northern boy with little experience in the world of biscuits, traveled to the south and, biting into my first warm, buttery, flaky biscuit, discovered a part of myself I now realize I had always been missing. It was like meeting a long lost sibling. I became enthralled. Addicted.  I would sit down at a restaurant and order one, then two, then shyly ask our waiter for a third. I soon became worried about leaving the south, anxious about returning north where biscuits are scarce and rarely high quality.

Traveling through Asheville, NC, we came across a charming restaurant by the name of Early Girl Eatery. Settling into our dinner the first night, we ordered a side of biscuits. These biscuits were warm, buttery and flaky in a whole new way. They put most biscuits to shame. These nearly melted as they hit your tongue, dissolving into warm, buttery goodness. (Not to mention they were served with butter which I generously slathered on, as well as sweet homemade jam.) I knew one day I had to return.

And I did, the next morning, when we went for breakfast and once more devoured these bites of heaven. But then it was time to hit the road, and I bid my beloved biscuits farewell.

After leaving Early Girl Eatery, I went many months without a great biscuit. There were many more biscuits on that trip to the south, many good ones, but no Early Girl Biscuits. It was not until I ended up in New York City, of all places, that I found another worthy biscuit. Or, as I like to think of it, we found each other.

It came via Hayley Daen, fellow Serious Eats intern and the baker behind the splendid blog Baking the Book. We got to talking about the south one day - Hayley is from Charleston, SC - and naturally the subject of biscuits came up. "Biscuits!" exclaimed Hayley, "I was a biscuit tester for Nathalie Dupree last summer. I can practically make biscuits with my hands tied behind my back."

This was good news. Very good news.

For those of you who don't know Nathalie Dupree, she's a southern-food goddess, television personality, writer and recent author of the cookbook Southern Biscuits, for which Hayley was a recipe tester (lucky girl!). Inquiring if there was one recipe that Hayley preferred for biscuits, she responded without hesitation, "The goat butter biscuits."

I was intrigued. I had never heard of goat butter biscuits, but if these were the best, I had to try them. Wanting to know more, I read the Washington Post article in which Nathalie Dupree wrote about these biscuits:
"Who knew? No one, we think, knew that goat milk butter makes perhaps the best, most ethereal biscuits, layered and light, fluffy and feathery, capable of creating dreams and desires. It was and is my favorite, my very very favorite of all biscuits."
I was convinced. I went to the store, forked over my $8 for goat butter and got to baking.

Now Nathalie's description might sound like hyperbole. "Capable of creating dreams and desires?!" you say. What is this, a line taken from The Odyssey? No, my friends, this is the truth. The truth baked and buttered until it reaches golden perfection. Flaky, hearty and a bit "tangy." The goat's milk adds a wonderful flavor: "Almost cheesy," notes Hayley. They are right up there with Early Girl Eatery, melt in your mouth morsels of pure genius.

These biscuits are wonderful on their own, but the addition of ripe summer tomatoes and homemade lemon mayo turns them into a real summer treat. You could certainly add lettuce and bacon for a BBLT (biscuit, bacon, lettuce and tomato), but I prefer the simplicity of this preparation.

These are delightful for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But frankly, I would recommend eating them for all three.

Recipe below.

Goat Butter Biscuits with Tomatoes and Homemade Mayo
Biscuits adapted from Nathalie Dupree
Makes 10-12 biscuits

For the biscuits:
-2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
-3 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-4 ounces (half package) chilled goat's milk butter, cut into half inch cubes, plus more for topping
-3/4 cup regular or low-fat milk

For the mayo:
-1 egg yolk
-3/4 cup canola or other neutral oil
-juice of half a small lemon
-pinch of salt, pepper and cayenne pepper

-3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
-salt and pepper

For the biscuits:

1. Position an oven rack at the top level. Preheat the oven to 425.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Scatter over the cubes of butter and incorporate the butter into the flour by rubbing your fingers with the butter and flour as if snapping your thumb and fingers together (alternatively, use 2 forks for a pastry cutter). Work quickly using only the tips of your fingers so as not to melt the butter. The mixture should look like well-crumbled feta, with no pieces larger than a pea.  If the mixture took longer than 5 minutes to incorporate, place the mixture in the fridge for 5 minutes to chill the fat.

3. Make a well in the middle of the flour and butter mixture and pour in the milk. Stir together quickly until the ingredients are just mixed and it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Add a spoonful more milk if flour remains at the bottom of the bowl.

4. Lightly dust a work surface. Turn the dough onto the surface and flour your hands. Fold the dough over in half, pat it into a 1/2-inch-thick round, then fold in half again and pat into a 1/2-inch-thick round.

5. Using a 2-3 inch biscuit cutter or glass, cut out the biscuits very close to each other. Collect the scraps, press into a 1/2-inch-thick round, and cut the remaining biscuits again.

6. Transfer the biscuits to a clean baking sheet. At this point, the biscuits can sit in the fridge for up to an hour (for a better rise), or be transferred directly to the oven. Place in the oven on the top rack for 6 minutes.  Then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 4-8 minutes, until they are golden brown.

For the mayo:

1. Place the egg yolk in a medium bowl. Whisking quickly, start by adding the oil a drop at a time, then adding it in a slow steady stream, whisking the whole time. You should achieve a thick mayonnaise. Add more oil if it is not thick enough.

2. Add the lemon juice and seasonings and whisk. The mayonnaise may break a little when you add the lemon, but whisk quickly and it will come back together, a bit thinner.

To assemble:

Cut the biscuits in half. Smear the mayo onto the biscuit halves and place a tomato slice on top. Season with salt and pepper. Leave open-faced or sandwiched between two halves. Enjoy at once.

Related Post: Discovering a Southern Tradition One Biscuit at a Time