Kitchen Hacker: Cowboy Stovetop Buttermilk Biscuits & Sorghum Syrup

I enjoy a kitchen challenge. My favorite variety of challenge is when I don’t have the necessary equipment for what I want to accomplish and I have to make do with what’s on hand. I think problem solving in the kitchen makes us smarter cooks.

Recently a special someone and I had a hankering for biscuits, but the oven was broken. The situation was made all the more urgent because there was a big ‘ole jar of hand-made, slow-cooked sorghum syrup that had traveled all the way from Sneedville TN to San Francisco, CA and I badly needed to convey some of it into my mouth on a hot, crispy biscuit. It was suggested by a smarter cook than I that we try the stovetop.

We figured if we could make biscuits on a home stovetop in a cast-iron pan then biscuits in the campsite would be in our future. All the more reason to make a go of it.

But first: the sorghum syrup. If you’ve never tried it, it’s kind of like molasses, only more edible. It’s overall milder, and shares some of the characteristics of molasses. It has a similar flavor—pungent, minerally, and sweet, but less bitter and with a (for lack of a better word) bright aftertaste that’s missing from molasses. It’s gorgeous, reddish brown and thick. It’s made the same way as molasses, but from sorghum instead of sugar cane. If you’re interested in the process, here’s a video by Whole Foods Market about a small producer called Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill.

Oh, yeah, there was no rolling pin or biscuit cutter either. But a Straus milk bottle and champagne glass worked just fine.

Bonus points if you’ve recently made the Cultured Butter (page 121) from DIY Delicious and you have some buttermilk to use for your biscuits. So much better!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes about a dozen small biscuits

1 3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat a dry cast iron skillet over medium high heat.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk together. Add the butter and cut it into the flour with a pastry blender or your hands (if you can work fast), distributing it evenly and stopping when the chunks of butter are the size of peas.

Pour in the buttermilk and mix with a spoon, just barely. You want to stop messing with the dough well before you think you should because this is the secret to flakiness. The dough will still be crumbly and wet and not at all a neat mass. Get over it and dump it on a clean, floured surface. Working quickly, push and pat it together with your hands. It will still be awfully messy. That’s ok. Messy dough=better biscuits.

Roll it to a one-inch thickness. Cut into small circles.

Put a tiny knob of butter in the skillet and swish it around. Put in the biscuits. Feeling free to crowd them. Slap a lid on ‘em. (it doesn’t have to fit tight).

Cook them until you can see they are cooked halfway up the sides. Flip them and cover them back up.  Take the lid off after a few minutes to let them crisp up.

Remove biscuits from skillet, and turn that mother off before it explodes, and then eat.

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