If your first thought is “gross,” you are forgiven. But bear with me. I have periodically come across recipes for mayonnaise biscuits in little church cookbooks, or on hand written recipe cards and I have dismissed them as crazy talk. Why? Simple bias. My head thinks baking with mayonnaise is nuts. Yet, I’ve also seen a million recipes in these same cookbooks for chocolate mayonnaise cake. Even my grandma had a recipe for chocolate mayonnaise cake. But still, there is this lingering part of my mind that assumes that these things, must, based on that one ingredient, taste like a tuna fish sandwich. And this is ridiculous. Mayonnaise is nothing but eggs and oil, really. So some enterprising cooks in a jam were smart enough to give mayo a whirl just to see what might happen, I suppose. And the answer is, good things happen.
Then there is the self-rising flour part. I don’t buy it. I think there is a part of me that thinks it is cheating somehow…after all, it already has baking powder and salt mixed into it. Isn’t that cheating? No. It is not. Can’t I just use all-purpose flour and add the salt and baking powder? Yes, you can, but don’t if you can help it.
Sometimes the simplest things can become the most interesting. This recipe, which is essentially four ingredients, gave me the inexpensive and non-time consuming space to explore the science of flour again. One could easily assume that they are all alike, or at least alike enough to not cause too much trouble. To be sure, there are ways to substitute among them. But there are factors involved that the home cook rarely gets to explore. And the real issue as I see it with these biscuits is the protein content of the flour. Caught on my second experiment without self-rising, I chose instead to research how to substitute all-purpose flour and make it similar to self-rising. I also tried using cake flour as a substitute for a half batch, just for fun. And, the difference in the results is not subtle. The cake flour biscuits just bombed, frankly. The flour is so light and fluffy and has such a low protein content. One cup of cake flour simply could not hold up to the liquids involved. When I added enough flour by weigh to equal the weight of the self-rising, it still couldn’t absorb the liquids and looked at first like waffle batter and then like thick waffle batter, not like biscuit batter. And the biscuits turned out as flat as poofy cookies. And ugly. Not good. When I made them with all–purpose flour, even sifting and taking out enough flour to account for the addition of the other dry ingredients, the biscuits were tougher, albeit still completely edible and delicious. But side by side, the self-rising flour biscuits were simply better. They tasted better. And, they were prettier. Hands down.
What is going on here? Well, self-rising flour is not simply flour + baking powder + salt. It is generally milled from lower protein wheat. This is apparently the type of wheat more commonly grown in the south. So, it is no wonder that Southern cooks appreciated these qualities when devising their biscuits. If you are making some other sort of bread, self-rising flour could be a very bad choice. But for a quick bread like this, where you are maximizing the tenderness of the crumb, and needing the dough (batter is probably a better word) to still have form when you drop it on a cookie sheet (which the cake flour could not accomplish), self-rising is a great choice. Cake flour is a different beast still. It is much finer in texture (the Swan’s Lake website says, “27 times finer than all-purpose flour”) which gives you an indication of why it is so light. It is bleached for color and apparently to help it absorb liquid but it just wasn’t a proper substitute here. Further still, “making” cake flour by adding cornstarch to a lesser amount of all-purpose flour wasn’t all that good a solution either. Actual self-rising flour is the solution.
So, I have banished my bias towards self-rising flour and consider it to be a perfectly legitimate flour in my arsenal. Many cooks and food scientists have done a much better job of describing the qualities of the different types of flour. But I have tinkered with my cookies and biscuits enough now to know that the flour choice cannot be taken for granted. As for the mayonnaise, well, I’m over that too. These biscuits are dreamy and perfect accompanied by lots of butter, marmalade, or giant globs of honey. It is, however, a quick bread. It is best right out of the oven. Thirty minutes later you will be eating a room temperature biscuit that cannot hold a candle to the one you could have and should have eaten 25 minutes before. But these come together and bake so quickly that there is no reason not to make them last and eat them first.
All of that to say…HOLY COW…mayonnaise biscuits made with self-rising flour are amazing. I added a sprinkle of Maldon salt on the top of each before baking and the combination of the salty exterior with sweet honey was great. If you are salt-sensitive, leave that part off, remembering that self-rising flour already has salt in the mix.
|Mayonnaise Biscuits|| |
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- Maldon Salt (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients using a rubber spatula. Only stir enough to fully combine the ingredients and scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Using a 1½ inch scoop, drop 12 biscuits on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone liner.
- If desired, sprinkle the top of each biscuit with a pinch of Maldon salt.
- Bake until golden, approximately 16 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and eat promptly.
Note: I’m giggling right now because I am a nervous person where grammar is concerned. It is not my natural calling. My daughter has a ball with my accent when it is showing and I still favor expressions like “over yonder” when I’m speaking. I had to double-check, for the first paragraph, that the proper word is “bear” with me and not “bare” with me…which I knew. But looking stupid in front of an audience causes me to double-check anyway. The tipsters said something to the effect of, if there is an ursine creature nearby it is “bear with me” and if you want to get nekkid with somebody it is “bare with me” and if you want someone to just hang in there with you, it is also the ursine-associated word. I won’t be forgetting that any time soon, as this is a family friendly blog. Feel free to surf the net nekkid, just know that is not what I was suggesting we do together.