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Blessed be the biscuit bakers: Food editor Russ Parsons on 'Southern Biscuits'

Southern-Biscuits-Cover-02-330When was the last time someone served you biscuits at dinner? When was the last time you made them yourself? That's what I thought; me neither. But a really well-made biscuit is one of the finest things you can put in your mouth. And, perhaps surprisingly, they're pretty easy to make –- at least going by the ingredient list -– flour, fat, leavener and liquid; that's about it.

But as with any simple recipe, the trick is in the doing. Biscuits are technique-heavy, and they repay extensive contemplation. There aren't many people who have been doing that longer than my old friend Nathalie Dupree. The queen of Southern cooking, she started teaching at Atlanta's flagship Rich's Department Store back in the 1970s. Many books and television shows later, she's better than ever.

Her latest entry, written with Cynthia Graubart and photographed by Rick McKee, is "Southern Biscuits," and if you think you can't fill a 200-page cookbook with recipes for biscuits, then you haven't met Ms. Dupree. They're all here, with countless variations. There are simple recipes like what the authors call "Sturdy Dorm Biscuits" that almost anyone should be able to put together. And there are more involved recipes such as beaten biscuits. Traditionally, these were smacked 1,001 times with a rolling pin to develop a smooth dough (old-time households had biscuit breaks to help out). Dupree does it in the food processor -– with breaks when the machine starts to overheat (or as she describes it "to whine or stagger on the board").

Best yet, there are all kinds of tips and step-by-step photos to get you through those anxious initial attempts. I know what my next cooking project is going to be.

"Southern Biscuits" by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart, $21.99

-- Russ Parsons

 
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Biscuits are straightforward to make. The trick is in finding the right kind of low-protein biscuit flour that Southern cooks use to create a tender product -- without it, you're in hockey-puck prison. For me, the best choice has always been White Lily, which was sold in LA until a few years ago but is now available on the West Coast only by mail-order. Click "Where to Buy" at: www.whitelily.com .


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