Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I saw a message board thread recently in people were wondering why anyone would be dumb enough, lazy enough, to buy self-rising flour, and I thought, well, there's somebody who doesn't make biscuits.

Self-rising flour is flour that has already been mixed with baking powder or other leavening agents - it's not (this was a common misconception on the thread) the same thing as Bisquick or other baking mixes, which are only a step away from cake mix. If it differs at all from what you could prepare at home, it's on the leavening agents used.

But it scales, see.

It's easy to make sixteen biscuits with regular flour and baking powder. It's a lot harder to make three biscuits. And I double dog dare you to get the proportions of baking powder to flour correct when making one biscuit.

With self-rising flour - a batch of which you could make at home to divvy out as needed, though that's more expensive and no better than buying it at the store - here's how you make any number of biscuits:

Put some SR flour in a bowl, enough to make the number of biscuits you want.

Add fat - preferably warm melted animal fat - to the flour, mixing until it clumps up in pieces the size of peas.

Add just enough liquid - preferably buttermilk, but milk or water is fine - to make the dough stick together.

Bake it until it's a biscuit.

No measuring needed - not because it relies on expertise and familiarity, but because what matters is non-mathematical cues like clumping and cohesion.

Anyway. This blog started out with a post on making my own country ham. I've barely blogged about country ham since then!  Why?  Because I haven't seen fresh ham available for sale since, and no one up here sells country ham or really knows what it is.  But I recently bought some ham from Father's Country Hams.  I've bought a number of brands of ham over the years, and this is the mail-order source I most highly recommend.  The pricing is reasonable and transparent, you can get uncooked ham pre-sliced, and the hams are aged a minimum of eight months. Even if you live somewhere where you can get country ham, most of what's in the supermarket is aged less than three months (before going to market, anyway), and most of what's served at Hardee's, Cracker Barrel, etc., is aged less than a month.

It makes a big difference.  What I like best about country ham - other than its meaty texture compared to the squishiness of city ham - is the dry-cured funk, like you get from some bacon and from good dry-cured salami.  At three months it's barely there.

Ham biscuit; pineapple and ham glazed with maple
Breakfast - a ham biscuit (ground country ham added to the aforementioned biscuit process) and ham-and-maple pineapple: roast fresh pineapple chunks tossed with ground country ham at 400 for 15-20 minutes (in other words, put the pan in with the biscuit) and then finish on the stove by adding a little maple syrup and cooking until it glazes the pineapple.

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