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Recipes and Stories

20 December 2015: Sour Cream Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Sour Cream Cheddar Drop Biscuits. Photography by Richard Burkhart

A simple way to dress up and stretch a family meal for unexpected company during the holidays, or just make it seem a little more special for the home folks, is a bread basket filled with piping hot, freshly baked biscuits. They never fail to impress, and make everyone think you’ve gone to a lot more trouble than you really have. They can be mixed and cut in five minutes flat and only take about ten minutes to bake.

But if you’re new to biscuit-making and are still a little intimidated by them, they may not seem like such a great last minute idea. That’s the time for drop biscuits. The wonderful thing about this variety is that they’re, excuse the expression, drop-dead easy to make. If you’re new to biscuit making, it’s a comfort to know that they take absolutely no skill to make. Even first-timers can get perfect results.

Because drop biscuits require very little handling, there’s very little chance of overworking the dough, and they’re the most forgiving of all the biscuit family of an imperfect balance of dry to wet ingredients. These cheddar-flecked morsels are doubly easy since there’s no shortening to cut in: The fat they need for tenderness is all contained in the liquid.

Sour Cream Cheddar Drop Biscuits
Makes 12

2 cups Southern soft-wheat flour such as White Lily, pastry flour, or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Single-Acting Baking Powder (recipe follows) or 2 teaspoons commercial baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup sour cream
2–4 tablespoons buttermilk (as needed—see step 2)

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking sheet. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the cheese and toss until it is evenly distributed and lightly coated.

2. Make a well in the center and add the sour cream and 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk. Quickly and gently work the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, using as few strokes as possible. The dough will be firm but not crumbly. Work in a spoonful or so more buttermilk as needed until the dough is holding together. Drop in heaping 2-tablespoon-size mounds onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about an inch apart, and bake until risen and golden, about 8–10 minutes.

Single-Acting Baking Powder

Commercial baking powder is “double-acting,” which means that it has two kinds of leavening: one that’s moisture activated, and a second one that’s heat activated. But they often have a bitter aftertaste that I don’t care for. Single-acting powder is no longer made commercially, but it’s easy to make at home. The only drawback to it is that it doesn’t keep well, so don’t make it in any larger quantity than you will use in a month of making it.

Makes ½ cup

3 tablespoons cream of tartar, available in many markets and drug stores
2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
3 tablespoons rice flour, cornstarch, or all-purpose flour

1. Combine all the ingredients in an airtight container and shake until thoroughly mixed.

2. Store tightly covered and away from moisture.

Recipes from Essentials of Southern Cooking: Techniques & Flavors of a Classic American Cuisine (Lyons Press). Copyright © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.

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