Chris Kahn, biscuit maker extraordinaire!
So says Chris Kahn, who knows a thing or two about the subject. She worked in the White Lily test kitchen for more than a decade and is the chair of the biscuit baking contest during the phenomenally successful International Biscuit Festival here in Knoxville.
Chris spent lunchtime recently teaching how to make the perfect biscuit as part of the Knoxville Symphony League’s Elegant Dining series. The class (including a biscuit lunch) was held in the home of Pat and Alan Rutenberg in the heart of Sequoyah Hills.
I signed up for the event as soon as tickets went on sale. As my guest, I took John McCulley, our senior web developer at Moxley Carmichael. John is going through a divorce and is committed to learning to cook. As you will see, he was an enthusiastic student.
Chris with John McCulley, the only man at the luncheon.
Mimosas to start! Angelia Nystrom was in charge of that pleasant task.
Diane Adams, left, and Linda McLaughlin waiting for class to start.
From left, Mary Lou Kanipe, Sandra Butler and Marisa Stone.
Rhonda Webster, left, with Linda Royston. Rhonda is president of the Knoxville Symphony League.
From left, Jamie Butler, Meridith Worden and Laurie Wallace.
Homeowner Pat Rutenberg, left, with Kathie Paul.
Settling in for the lesson were, from left, Linda Painter, Judy Johnson and Sylvia Witt.
Tina Hatcher had a front row seat.
Ready to make those biscuits? You will need three ingredients: 2 cups of White Lily self-rising flour, 1/3 cup of Crisco shortening (“tried and true,” Chris said), and 2/3 to 3/4 cup of Cruze Farm whole milk buttermilk. “You have to use Cruze Farm buttermilk,” Chris said. “It does make a difference.”
Measure carefully. Don’t sift the flour, she said. Just stir it around a little bit before lightly filling a measuring cup. Level the cup by scraping off the excess flour with the straight edge of a knife.
Chris doesn’t know how many biscuits she has made in her life. But while making them at a food show one day, she began counting them and realized that she made 10,000 biscuits in just that one day! See what I mean when I say she is an expert?
Cut in the Crisco with a pastry blender until the mixture has lumps the size of peas.
Add the buttermilk, but don’t stir it with a spoon. Instead, use a fork to moisten the flour mixture by adding the buttermilk a little at a time. Don’t overwork it or you will make it tough. When all the dough is wet and there is no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl, you are finished with this step.
Turn the dough out onto a floured pastry cloth (or countertop) and fold it over a few times until it is smooth. Again, use a gentle touch. You are not trying to knead it as you would a loaf of bread.
Gently roll the dough with a rolling pin until it is about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick and cut it into rounds with a sharp, straight-sided biscuit cutter.
A word about biscuit cutters. A 2-inch cutter is considered standard, but Chris prefers a 2-1/2 inch size. Do not use a jelly jar or twist the cutter in the dough. You want a straight, clean edge to the biscuits. This will assure they rise better.
Place them on a baking sheet so that their sides touch one another. This will ensure that the finished biscuits will be soft on the sides.
Turn the oven up high to preheat, Chris advised, to 475 or 500 degrees. The high heat will make the biscuits rise right up when they enter the oven, she said. Leave the biscuits in the oven 8 to 10 minutes.
Voila! Good enough to eat! They were super tender.
Ham was a perfect accompaniment. We also had fruit, and grits and gravy. And jellies and mustard.
Pat Rutenberg goes through the line.
Stacy Moody offered coffee.
Laurie Rees, left, and Barbara Monnerjahn making their lunch choices.
Mary Sue Greiner, director of development for the Symphony, enjoying the results of the lesson.
Chris did address the age-old argument about butter vs. shortening in biscuits. “Butter belongs ON a biscuit — not IN a biscuit,” she asserted. Why? Shortening is pure fat, whereas butter contains water. Shortening is better for a tender biscuit. She is not opposed, however, to melting some butter to brush on the biscuit tops when they come out of the oven.
Speaking of fat, when Chris was at White Lily, she was on the team that developed the biscuits for the Hardee’s chain. “You don’t even want to know how much fat is in a Hardee’s biscuit!” she confided.
Biscuits are easy, once you get the hang of it, she promised. Don’t expect your first batch to be perfect. Fortunately, the ingredients are not expensive, so it’s fine to throw them out if you mess up. Also, once you master this recipe, feel free to tweak it. “If you change any little thing in a recipe, it’s yours!” she said. That’s why these are called “Chris’s Biscuits!”
The Rutenbergs’ home was built in 1941. It was designed by the famous Knoxville architecture firm Baumann and Baumann. It was constructed as the parson’s house for First Presbyterian Church, according to Pat Rutenberg.
So, how did our friend John, do?
Here he is at his apartment about to plunge in.
Cutting in the Crisco, just as Chris did.
Adding the buttermilk.
Rolling them out.
Coming out of the oven.
So, Cynthia, does this mean you can teach me to make a good biscuit? If so, we have a deal if you know what I mean.
Monique: Ha! I do know what you mean! And it’s a deal!
Little know fact (real, not alternative): For several years in the 1960s, I was the Union County 4-H Club biscuit making champion. Seriously.
Pam: OMG! That is awesome information! In all the time I’ve known you, this has never come out!
My Mother made White Lily biscuits every day! I didn’t realize we were so spoiled until she went back to work!
Lillian: Great story! Lucky you!
Interesting that she covers her rolling pin with cheesecloth. Haven’t seen that before.
Way to go, John! Biscuit king!
Pam: She called that a rolling pin cover and said it comes in the same package as the pastry cloth. John found that set (and bought it) at Target. Chris said she rarely washes it or the pastry cloth – she just packs them up and re-uses them. Unless she gets a lot of grease on them from making a pie crust or a bunch of cinnamon from making cinnamon rolls. Then, she said, “Just throw them in the wash with the whites.”
I love making biscuits about as much as I love seeking out different places to eat biscuits. What a fun class!
Tami: Going to find out if I agree. Certainly like eating them!
Cynthia: What a nice article. Thanks for the coverage!
Stacy: As usual, you all did a great job. Fun, fun event.
This was an amazing experience and has brought me great joy and a full tummy. Thanks again for letting me tag along!
John: I loved the fact that being the only guy there didn’t phase you a bit! And so impressed by your biscuits.
I keep staring at the plate of biscuits …
John: I’m impressed. Great job! I’m inspired to try this recipe, too. Thanks!
This was my grandmother’s (Ethel McKinnon) home for nearly 50 years. What a beautiful renovation. Great meals have been prepared there for decades. A charming venue to pass on a Southern Tradition.
Maria and Lauren: We need to get John to make some biscuits and bring them in to work!
Bryan: Wow. Thanks for sharing that info. We loved being there.
So grateful to both you and Chris for the recipe and techniques! I can’t wait to try these biscuits at home. And what a great idea for a symphony league get-together. Knoxville’s lucky to have great hostesses and chefs.
Rusha: I agree with you. Knoxville has some fabulous culinary talent. And this was a creative Elegant Dining idea. Glad the Symphony League came up with it.
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