A biscuit recipe for the mechanic chef
by Brittany Grace
The Exxon at the corner of Moreland and Ponce is a scrappy kind of place. It is not the kind of environment I would expect the boss to bring his workers homemade cordon bleu. In fact, I’m not sure what kind of place I would expect the boss to bring his workers such treats, but this shop is that kind of place, I learned while getting my oil changed.
Tom sits behind a counter, typing something on the computer and chatting with a pleasant, older, bespectacled woman. As I enter the room, I smile at them, hinting at the need to interrupt their conversation. Soon, after giving Tom the details on my car, I’m over-sharing: would you take a look sometime at the 1988 Chevrolet box truck I’ve purchased (to start a food truck business)? He is enthusiastic, and genuinely interested, so we start talking about food, and about how the cordon bleu he brought for his workers that day was gone in an instant. I ask if he likes pimento cheese. He says no – he also does not care for grits. This is not so shocking when he explains that he’s from New England.
The next thing I know, Mattie, the lady Tom had been chatting with, pipes in: “you don’t like grits?! I could eat grits for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” And so, we bond over the deeply southern specialties that include grits: shrimp with garlic and tomato grits; blackened fish with cheese grits; grits pie. The waiting room at this mechanic shop was turning into a beauty parlor, with all the chatter going on. Tom tells me he has spent months perfecting his peanut-butter fudge, and years trying to balance out the flavors in his spaghetti sauce.
We also talk biscuits: he appreciates a great biscuit, but hasn’t yet capitalized on making a good one himself. I ask what kind of biscuit he prefers (there are quite a variety of biscuit types for people to fuss over – dense, flaky, fluffy, crusty, brown, golden, lard-based, cream-based) and he says it depends on what he’s eating with them. After all, a dense biscuit is crucial for mopping up something hearty, like rich, thick gravy. This is exactly what I picture Tom eating for breakfast before heading to the shop. Maybe he eats scrambled tofu, or a dainty fruit parfait, but I can’t picture that as easily.
The following recipe was given to me in a homemade cookbook I begged my mom to put together while I was in college, when I first started really cooking. I wanted her coveted classics: delectable spaghetti sauce, hearty, tomato-rich chili, the fluffiest biscuits, the creamiest mashed potatoes. She has always quietly laughed at my requests, saying “I don’t really follow a recipe, you know.” So the recipes she wrote down for me are mostly sketchy outlines with inexact measurements. Fortunately, her biscuit recipe is not one of those.
These are not the biscuits she made us growing up, of course, because there’s no recipe for those. Instead, this recipe was borrowed from our neighbors in Thomasville, Georgia, who used to run a bed and breakfast. The last I remember, the 80-year-old husband, Ed, would get up early on weekend mornings to make these biscuits for overnight guests. I’m thinking of getting up early on Sundays to make them for the upcoming Grant Park farmers market this summer.
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbs baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 425. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in mixing bowl. Stir dry ingredients with a fork to blend and lighten. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly. Gather the dough until it sticks together. Add a little more cream if too dry. Knead for one minute. Pat dough onto floured surface until about 1/2 inch thick.
Cut into biscuits with something round – I use the lid of a Mason jar – and drizzle melted butter over them.
Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Or, if your baking sheet is soaking from the night before (like mine was), use a round pan and nestle the biscuits close to one another. They will come out just fine. On this batch, I added some fresh sprigs of rosemary to the tops.
Bake about 15 minutes or until slightly browned. To make drop biscuits, just make your dough a little wetter and drop by spoonfuls. (I like drop biscuits, because of the added texture you get on the top of the biscuit).
Shred your favorite cheddar cheese and break off some fresh leaves off rosemary; blend into your dough for an extra savory biscuit.
Grate fresh cinnamon and mix with a few spoonfuls of sugar. Mix into dough. Top biscuits with drizzles of butter and more spoonfuls of the cinnamon-sugar mixture before putting in oven.
Dig in, Tom.