Monday, May 10, 2010

Shirley Corriher's incredible floating biscuits

Surely one of the highlights of my culinary visit to Portland was the chance to taste a Touch of Grace Biscuit made by Shirley Corriher at the IACP conference's book fair. 

The other real highlight that day was talking to her about how she makes the biscuits and where they came from. JH had a bite of one of her biscuits and immediately proposed marriage. Mr. Corriher said that JH could have his first wife instead.

But that's getting ahead of the story.

If you've never heard of Shirley Corriher, you're in for a real treat, because few people can match the amazing kitchen skills and culinary achievements of this food scientist and former biochemist. Shirley has popped up every now and then as a guest on Alton Brown's Good Eats program, and it's little wonder, as her vivacity and Southern charm would win over even the severest aesthete. Shirley's the author of two books I cannot recommend highly enough: CookWise and her James Beard Foundation winning title, BakeWise. Both tell you not only how to cook great food, but why ingredients come together to form the perfect dish. They're indispensable.

Wonderful and new Tenda-Bake packaging
But back to those biscuits. If you've ever had good Southern food, you know that there are few things that as delicious in this world as homemade biscuits. But if you haven't yet tasted one of Shirley's, you've never tasted the absolute best biscuit in the world. 

 She calls them "Touch of Grace" biscuits because when she used to fail at copying her grandmother's divine biscuits, her grandmother would say that they just needed a touch of grace. 

 The scientist in Shirley later figured out that they needed more than that: they needed a super soft dough that would steam the biscuits up into cloud-like puffs, and that's the true secret here. The other important ingredient is super soft white flour. Shirley was promoting her new line of Tenda-Bake flours (oddly enough, this website neither mentions Shirley nor offers the flours with her great face on the cover -- see above), and what she used that day did seem even more fine and delicate than the South's great White Lily flour. Shirley and the folks from Tenda-Bake assured me that the flour would be available online before long.

Nestled up against the hot pans of biscuits that disappeared just as fast as they were placed on the table were two butters, a pink cherry one and a pale orange one. Shirley recommended the orange butter, and after slathering the butter on this already perfect biscuit, it was hard to eat with such a big grin on my face. The recipe for the biscuits is included below, as well as a video of Shirley at the IACP book fair.

Shirley Corriher's touch of grace biscuits
Makes about 12 to 14

Nonstick spray, such as Pam
2 cups self-rising, low-protein, Southern style flour, such as Tenda-Bake or White Lily
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening (like Crisco)
cup cream
1 cup full-fat buttermilk, plus more if needed
1 cup plain white flour for shaping the biscuits (don't use self-rising flour for this)

2 tablespoons butter

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and place the rack just below the center of the oven. Lightly coat an 9-inch cake pan with nonstick spray.

2. Stir together the self-rising flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Use your fingers or a pastry blender to cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until there are just pea-sized lumps.

3. a wooden spoon to gently stir in the cream, and then stir in the buttermilk until the dough is soft a looks like cottage cheese. Shirley says it should be a wet mess at this point. (If you use anything other than the recommended flours, you'll probably need a whole lot more buttermilk to achieve this texture.)

4. Pour the plain white flour into a smaller bowl or pie pan. Flour your hands well. One by one, use a sharp spoon or regular-sized ice cream scoop to measure out equal-sized lumps of dough -- about 12 to 14 in all -- into the bowl of flour. Sprinkle the flour over the dough and lightly shape them into little patties. Shake off any excess flour, and then place each flour-covered patty into the oiled cake pan as you shape it. Scrunch the biscuits together so that they all fit.

5. Bake the biscuits for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. Brush them with the melted butter, invert the biscuits out on one plate, and then invert them back onto your serving platter so that they're right side up. Use a sharp knife to separate the biscuits and serve immediately. These do not improve with time, so eat them right away!

Video on how to make "Touch of Grace Biscuits"


  1. Those biscuits sound amazing! My husband is a biscuit-lovin' freak; I'm going to make these for him for Sunday breakfast.

    I'm curious about the flavored butters -- orange and cherry. I hope you'll write about those soon, describing them in greater detail. Are they sweetened? Flavored with real fruit or oil extracts? I need to know!

  2. Oh MAN do those sound fantastic! Something is seriously wrong with my husband that he doesn't like biscuits. Or perhaps he just hasn't had the right biscuits. I need to get one of those flours and just try it out.