We had a “Beat Biscuit” class here at the K-B Kitchen on Wednesday. We’ve been making this iconic bread for a couple three years now, when we realized that was the only way we were going to get any to eat at ThanksGiving and Christmas. I thought it would be fun to do a blog post on the subject, and include a little history about them, since that was a question that came up on Wednesday. So, first step, Google “maryland beaten biscuit”. Dang!! someone sure beat me to this! First thing to come up is a BlogPost by an Annapolis food historian, named Joyce White, and she certainly has all the bases covered. You can find her post here, complete with old, handwritten recipes and all the historic ephemera you could possibly want to add to your store of food trivia…
So, no need to repeat all of that. Let’s move on to the K-B Market method of making beat biscuits. Even though it has been a topic here before in years past, there is still room for some refreshing.
The first thing we did on Wednesday was to eat the biscuits that Kevin and I had made the day before. I wanted to make sure that the students – three sisters – agreed that this was the biscuit they wanted to make. All agreed, just exactly right. I offered them a choice of making them with our own rendered lard – which is quite porky – commercial lard or shortening. The porky lard that Kevin had rendered was the choice. It is a little softer than the commercial product, but the flavor is unbeatable. (sorry…)
The recipe we use, from a website called “Recipe Source”, is attributed to local food maestro John Shields. It is worth a look, if only for the hilarious commentary that accompanies it. This recipe consists of four ingredients: flour, lard, salt and water, and we follow it precisely except to add a bit more salt (a quarter of a teaspoon more). We also weigh the lard, which is so much easier than measuring it – and that amount would translate to 1.5 ounces.
I can’t improve upon the aforementioned “A Taste of History” post or the pictures she provides of the process – and I’ve done all that before anyway (click here to go to the K-B Market archives) – but I can share with you a few hints you may want to employ when you attempt to make your own batch:
- Cut the lard into the flour and salt with a pastry cutter.
- A stand mixer with a dough hook and a meat grinder attachment is quite useful. If this appliance is not in your kitchen, simply follow the recipe as described in the linked page and you will have fine success. But if you do have one…
- Using the dough hook on your mixer, add the very cold water very slowly to the dry ingredients – you want to add enough water to make the dough come together but not so much that the dough is wet or sticky. It might not need the entire amount called for, so pay attention.
- When the dough looks right, put it on your counter and knead it just enough to bring it to a uniform ball, no more than that.
- Now the life-saving (or rather arm-saving) trick. Get out your meat grinder, or put the attachment onto your mixer. Cut your ball of dough into three pieces and roll each into a long rope that will easily fit into the hopper of your grinder. (we use the blade with the largest holes for this)
- Grind the dough, one rope of dough at a time.
- Send the dough through the grinder three times, re-shaping it into ropes before each grind.
- Wait! you are not finished yet. You do still have to beat the dough to get that texture you want, just not for so long.
- Shape the dough into a nice smooth ball and start to beat it with your mallet or whatever, until it it a flat piece of dough. Fold it onto itself, one side over the over, and beat again.
- Beat at least four turns. By the next to last you should see and hear the blisters forming on the dough, which is exactly what you are hoping for.
- Shape and bake as described in the article and the videos. Don’t forget to poke the fork into the top! One of the participants on Wednesday told me that she has heard of people poking their initials into the tops, as their own little brand. I like that idea.
As you practice you will recognize how the dough should look and feel throughout the process. As I was saying to the class on Wednesday, it is amazing to me that you can take these three basic ingredients and get them to turn into a soft, pillowy dough, without using yeast or any other leavening. Sometime I’d like to try to make them with the recommended pastry or soft flour, to see if that makes any difference, but so far we have not objected to the all-purpose results.
My pictures from the Wednesday biscuit making session left a lot to be desired, but here are two:
The class was a lot of fun! and I think the women got a lot of helpful tips out of it. We made the first batch together, but they were pretty much on their own the second go-round and they had it nailed.
Anyone else out there who wants to learn this dying art, give us a shout and we’ll do it again!