Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Goin' Southern with Biscuits and Cornbread

Hello everybody! Time for a quick tale of baking for a huge house party! I hosted a large Christmas party after Christmas where I planned to serve chili because yay, easy, and obviously, I needed biscuits and cornbread to go with the chili. I had planned to make the biscuits and cornbread the night before the party but, due to the unfortunate circumstance of burned fingertips from peeling of 8 pounds of hot tomatoes and browning 16 pounds of meat, that didn't happen. So, looks like a bright and early start to my day!

I decided to go with America's Test Kitchen recipes because I'm always hesitant about serving new recipes to people at parties and I trust that ATK won't lead me astray. I picked a savory drop biscuit (cheddar and chive) that looked like a pretty straightforward recipe. I've never made biscuits before so this was another first for me. Look at me branching out and being adventurous!

I started out by whisking all of the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda AND baking powder, sugar, grated cheddar cheese, chives, and salt) and melting my butter. Then I got to follow the weirdest directions. I had to combine buttermilk and melted (slightly cooled) butter, stirring until the butter formed clumps. Umm, what now? Fortunately, the recipe had the direction "This might look like a mistake but it's one of the secrets to this recipe. The clumps of butter are similar to the bits of cold butter prepared according to the traditional method." So this recipe not only offered me a shortcut but also explained why I was using it. Cool! I'm glad that description existed because that buttermilk sure did get clumpy!

Anyway, once I had clumpy buttermilk, I had to add that to the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until just combined. Done. And that's it. I had dirtied a bowl, a whisk, and a spatula. Ok, technically the cheese grater too because I was too dumb to buy already grated cheese. But I was done preparing this dough in maybe 10 minutes tops. Oh, I should also mention that I had weighed out all of my ingredients. I basically do this with all test kitchen recipes now.

Batter complete, I scooped out biscuits with my cookie scoop, plopped them on some pans and ta da! About 12 minutes later, they were done. All I had to do was brush the tops with some melted butter for a little extra flavor.

For context for what I'm about to say, I should point out that this was literally the first thing I did in the morning, even before my coffee. So at this point, I let these little beauties cool a bit while I made my coffee and decided to taste one for my breakfast. Yes, I know they're savory and that's not really a breakfast-y thing but I was hungry. I got cozy on my couch with a book to read, my cup of coffee, and a biscuit and OMG, these were so good! I had expected them to be tasty. But I hadn't dreamed that they'd be the best damn biscuit of my life. Crisp on the outside, soft and layered on the inside, amazing flavor from the cheddar and chive. I strongly considered hiding them from people so I could gobble them all myself. As a side note, I didn't warm them up for the party and while they were still delicious, they weren't quite as heavenly. I did warm up the leftovers the next day though. Amazing.

Now that I was done with my biscuit-gasm, it was time to tackle some cornbread!

I had looked over my recipes in advance and was pretty torn about northern style cornbread vs. southern style. I don't particularly know the difference except that the northern style recipe had actual corn and I didn't want that. Plus as an added bonus, I got a chance to bake in my cast iron skillet!

This was actually another super easy recipe. I started by toasting my cornmeal in the oven while I was preheating my cast iron skillet with some vegetable oil. While all of that was happening, I combined my dry ingredients and eggs. I technically wasn't supposed to add the eggs yet but everything was happening so fast. I was barely done with that by the time my cornmeal was toasted and then I had to whisk the cornmeal with sour cream and milk. I even bought whole milk to use for my baking this holiday season!

Then came the real test. Now that the cast iron pan was preheated with oil, I had to take it out of the oven, add butter, swirl it around in the pan to melt it, and then pour all but one tablespoon into my cornmeal mixture. Yikes! I'd like to remind my dear readers that I had burned fingertips from the night before. I was not pleased about these directions. I also really don't know how you're supposed to measure "all but one tablespoon" from a very hot pan so naturally, I eyeballed it. It went better than expected but I suspect I left a little too much butter in the pan.

However, no time to think! Must keep moving quickly! We can't let that skillet cool down or all will be lost! I had to whisk in the butter/oil that I had poured and then add the dry mixture/mistakenly added eggs and whisk that up and then QUICKLY! scrape the batter into the cast iron pan and get that sucker back into the oven. I swear my heart was racing. I've never whisked so fast. I am very sure all of this stress was unnecessary. Oh well, into the oven, and time to clean up the kitchen. Oh look, somehow this recipe only dirtied two bowls. Madness. How did I spend a whole morning baking and not use my KitchenAid once? It's almost like I planned ahead for easy to clean recipes, knowing that I had people coming over in a few hours! (I didn't.)

About 15 minutes later, cornbread was done and it looked gorgeous. I had to let the skillet cool for 15 minutes before trying to remove it (during which time my husband woke up and I had to yell "DON'T TOUCH! HOT!" as he approached the skillet). I was pretty worried about flipping the cornbread out of the skillet but amazingly enough, it came out of the skillet perfectly. I let it cool the rest of the way before slicing it and sadly, I forgot to take a photo of the perfect cornbread before I cut it.

It had a really nice crispy crust and very good flavor but I think it was a little thick and dry for me. Still delicious but could've benefited from some butter or something with it. But considering I was serving it with chili, I thought it was fine. I think next time I'd either use a bigger skillet or be sure to incorporate more of the butter from the pan into the batter.

Overall, a delicious pair of Southern baked goods all ready before 11 am!

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