Other people send pictures of their pets and kids. On Dec. 1, in the middle of the holiday rush, Pamela Duvick emailed me a picture of her biscuit.
I understood. Duvick bakes biscuits so high, she calls them “tall soldiers.”
Duvick and her family – husband Todd, sons Logan, 20, and Christian, 17, and her married daughter, Betsy – are all back in Charlotte after bouncing around for Todd’s job as a corporate bond analyst for Wells Fargo. The Duvicks have lived all over: Ohio, Philadelphia, Iowa, Oxford, N.C., Charlotte, Connecticut and Charlotte again.
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Duvick was raised in Atlanta, though, and she never felt at home outside the South. It’s in her accent and definitely in her cooking. Her aunts and her grandmothers all made biscuits.
“We had cornbread, but if you could make a good biscuit, that was the grail.”
For years, Duvick couldn’t do it.
“I could have given the National Hockey League pucks for a year,” she says. “I was always handling too much and rolling out too thin.”
Finally, she realized it’s not the recipe. It’s the technique:
First, she starts very cold. Mixing bowl, marble rolling pin and butter all go in the freezer overnight. She snaps a blue Latex glove on her right hand so she doesn’t warm the frozen butter. She grates it on the large holes of a box grater, creating long shreds.
She puts 2 1/2 cups of White Lily self-rising flour in the cold mixing bowl, adds the shredded butter and tosses gently with a whisk.
After putting the bowl back in the freezer for 10 minutes, she makes a little well in the flour and pours in 1 cup of buttermilk. Using a wooden spoon, she “fluffs” it, bumping in flour around the edge of the pool, then stirring gently.
She dumps the dough on a floured pastry sheet, then gathers it, shaping it into a mound. She rolls it – gently, in the same direction – with the cold, floured rolling pin. Then she folds it and rolls again, five times, to make pockets of butter. She measures the dough, aiming for between 1/2 and 3/4 inch thick.
She uses a floured cutter to cut out the biscuits, pressing straight down. If you twist, it seals the layers so they can’t rise. She places them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, slightly touching so they support each other.
They go into a 475-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. It takes a hot oven to make them rise.
Sitting down to a plate of towering warm biscuits, with butter, sorghum and orange-blossom honey, we get philosophical on details, like placing biscuits so they’re touching.
“When you’re touching, you lift each other up and you rise higher,” Duvick agrees. But if they rise too high and slump over, they still taste good.
After all, even a homely biscuit is beautiful to its maker.