This past Sunday Allyson and I were craving biscuits and gravy. Sunday morning breakfast is our favorite meal together and it's the one day of the week where we aren't rushing out the door. That means time for more complex breakfasts, like pancake Sundays or biscuits and gravy. Since we transitioned to using entirely whole wheat flour a few years ago, we haven't had too much success with biscuits. Then we discovered Alton Brown's "Phase III Biscuits" in his cookbook "I'm Just Here For More Food."
At that time, I remember the biscuits being tasty but the process being a near disaster and quite frustrating. So in spite of this experience, we decided to try again and see what we could do differently.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with oven rack in top third of oven
I remember my grandmother turning a sifter over a large bowl and taking her time. Well, I wanted fast results. We got out the Vitamix and put the dry ingredients in and turned it on and pulsed a few times. Soon the dry ingredients were flowing through the blades getting mixed evenly and more finely ground.
I mention this step because it is important that later you add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients for sufficient mixing (not adding dry to wet, it does make a difference).
In a small mixing bowl, beat the milk and egg together.
Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients. This will make it so that the butter is easy to incorporate into the flour. With your hands, mix the flour and butter until it is perfectly unincorporated. That's right, you want to see small rice sized pieces of flour and butter in the mixture so that the dry/butter mixture is clumpy.
Mix thoroughly by hand. You will see that resulting dough looks more like a batter.
Use LOTS of flour on your parchment paper. Flour the top of the batter heavily as well. Have more flour handy as you "knead" the dough by not kneading (see next step.)
Alton's trick is to use parchment paper instead of your hands to avoid what he calls "clubhand" (essentially dough stuck to your fingers).
Where Alton and I disagree is on how much flour to apply at this point to make folding easier. Use more flour.
Using the parchment paper, fold the left third of the paper over the top of the floured batter. Press the batter out with your hands to spread it out. Be prepared when you pull back the paper to scrape the batter from it with a spatula.
Flour the top of the batter again and fold from the right towards the left. Press the batter out again to flatten it out. Using the edges of the paper, fold the top in a bit to square up the batter. The goal is to create about a 1/2 inch thick section of dough.
Now be prepared to swear. Try folding the left over to the right so that 1/3 of the dough is allowed to fold onto the center of the dough section. This is so you get flaky, layered biscuits. Chances are, the batter will stick to the paper and you'll need to repeat the above process a few times until it feels more like dough than batter.
When you get to the point where you can fold the dough, fold the left to the right, and the right third to the left. You should end up with a section of dough that is three layers thick and ready to cut.
Keep making sections of dough until all dough is used up.
450 degree oven with rack moved towards top of oven.
I like cast iron a lot. So I took a cast iron skillet and threw it in the oven for a few minutes. It got hot enough to melt some lard on it. I left a little excess lard there instead of draining it. Who can blame a guy!?!
Now put your biscuits on the pan and quickly move it to the oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes to 18 minutes depending on the size of your biscuits.
Remove from the oven and transfer the biscuits to a large bowl lined with a thick towel. Fold the towel over the biscuits to keep them warm.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter/lard and add the crumbled sausage and lightly brown to release more fat.
When it's crackling hot, sprinkle flour over top. Stir together. The flour will start to stick to the bottom of the pan and a film will form. The fat/meat should be quite murky as below.
Add the milk and stir the mixture regularly, scarping the bottom. Bring the milk to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Allow the mixture to simmer until it is thick. Remove from heat.
If you don't serve the gravy immediately, it may become too thick and crusty. Simply apply heat again and add more milk.
No biscuits are complete without a gooey fried egg on top and some greasy sausage on the side. Look, I said this meal was a treat! Ok, I don't feel guilty now.
Above are these amazing little smoked sorghum and maple breakfast sausages that Adam Lambert made me. They are course ground and stuffed in sheep's casings. They are just killer!
Serve Breakfast. Plate everything hot. Hot gravy in a bowl. Hot biscuits under the towel. Hot eggs and sausage. Serve and enjoy!