The origin of Little Boy Biscuits and Gravy goes back to a story my west Texas grandmother used to tell about the little poor boy who knocked on her family’s back door every morning on his way to school. Sporting a three inch cow lick and a perpetually empty lunch pail he could always count on Miss Eugenie to hand over a couple of hot ones. Upon receipt he’d deploy his thumb to hollow out a hole in the middle which she’d fill with sorghum syrup. He’d then plop down on the steps to eat, dripping sorghum while Sunshine the cat handled the cleanup. (My recreation of the thumbprint biscuit below):
The little boy is long gone but the biscuits are still going strong. When she wasn’t cheating by making ‘whomp’ biscuits – the kind that come in cans that you whomp on the kitchen counter to open – my grandmother made them with lard and I’ve altered the recipe to add a little butter for flavor.
The main trick to mastering flaky biscuits is to make them repeatedly. Sorry, but that’s just the truth. All the ‘tricks’ to follow only work if you do that. The usual biscuit mantra stresses cold everything, fast everything then into a hot hot oven. To this I will add the advice to roll out the dough, then fold over in thirds like a letter, turn sideways, fold in thirds again and cut into rounds. If this looks familiar it’s because it’s a primitive version of the puff pastry routine but it only takes an extra minute and makes the biscuits flakier. If you want to speed it up even more don’t bother with the biscuit cutter. Just use a knife and cut into squares and you will have no left over strips of dough to reform and recut.
To start you whisk the dry ingredients together then cut in the cold fat, in this case lard and butter. Works the same if using all butter.
When the fat is pea sized stir in the buttermilk. You’ll note that I’ve specified three quarters to one cup milk. That’s because different flours have different absorption rates. Add the milk until the dough just starts to stick together. You don’t want to end up with anything that could qualify as batter.
Next dump the dough onto a flat surface and form into a rectangular slab. It will be what’s called ‘shaggy’ which means that there may not be enough moisture to incorporate all the flour. Once you’ve formed the slab brush that extra flour to the side.
The whole point of the gravy recipe is simplicity. Don’t make it something it’s not. It’s not a complex sauce requiring weird spices or garlic. The most important thing is to find a loose or patty style “breakfast” type sausage that’s seasoned the way you like. Fry it in a pan until slightly brown, add the onion, then butter and flour. Add the milk gradually and stop when it reaches the preferred consistency. This may end up being a little more or less than I call for here. So play it by ear. If too thick add more milk or even some chicken broth. But in the end it rises or falls on the quality of the sausage so choose carefully. If you do you won’t be bothered with adding spices.
And note. The gravy thickens quickly if left on the stove or if you make it the night before and store it in the fridge. To thin it you can use more milk, water, or chicken broth.
Here’s the gravy hanging with an egg and some sourdough toast in case you decided to skip making the biscuits.
- For the biscuits:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- ⅓ cup lard plus 2 tablespoons (or 1 stick butter)
- ¾ to 1 cup buttermilk
- For the gravy:
- ½ lb sausage
- ⅓ cup diced onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ⅓ cup flour
- 1¾ cups milk (or a combination of milk & broth)
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- Salt, Pepper, & cayenne to taste
- optional parsley
- For the biscuits:
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Sift together dry ingredients.
- Cut in lard & butter to pea size.
- Stir in buttermilk & put dough onto counter. Form into a mound with your hands.
- Roll out into rectangle, fold into thirds, roll again, then turn 45 degrees & roll again. The dough should be about ½ to ¾ inch thick.
- Cut into rounds or squares and bake until brown about 10 to 12 minutes.
- For the gravy:
- Fry the sausage in a pan until it starts to brown.
- Add onion then flour and cook for a minute.
- Slowly stir in milk & vinegar and let cook on low for several minutes.
- Season to taste.
When it comes to sausage I use a loose breakfast style sausage made by my local grocery store. If you don't have this option Jones & Jimmy Dean have good patty sausages that will serve well. If you don't eat pork there are some good turkey sausage options out there.