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Review – “Biscuit Bliss” by James Villas

In Reviews on September 28, 2010 at 7:32 pm

When the wonderful folks at the Daring Kitchen asked me to review a cookbook about biscuits, I was intrigued. Not being a Southern Grandmother, to me, biscuits were always what you got when you mixed Bisquik and milk. How wrong I was! As it turns out, biscuit-making is more of an art than a science. You can follow the recipe exactly, but unless you have “the touch”, you can still end up with hockey pucks.

In Biscuit Bliss, author James Villas takes us through the history and technique of over one hundred different types of biscuits. As the longtime food and wine editor of Town and Country as well as a southerner, he knows a thing or two about the subject. The introduction tells a charming story about making biscuits with his aunt, whose perfect touch and timing will make you feel totally biscuit-inept.

The book begins with a chapter on “Biscuit Basics”, where Mr. Villas guides you through  each step and component of the process. Did you know how to test the freshness of baking powder? Did you know how to make your own? He writes about the advantages of the different kinds of fats and flours, and why you should use a heavy-gauge pan. There is also a helpful troubleshooting table that, believe me, I have memorized.

The chapters are broken down into “Plain Raised Biscuits”,  “Flavored Biscuits”, Drop Biscuits”, Cocktail and Tea Biscuits”, and “Scones”. Yes, scones are closely related to biscuits, and this book includes several delicious recipes. And when I say the chapters are complete and exhaustive, trust me. The chapter on plain biscuits contains 23 different recipes for the same kind of biscuit, and some are way more complicated than others. If on the first one you fail, try, try another.

My first attempt was the Sam’s Cloud Biscuits, and they were a craptacular fail. They didn’t rise, and they burned before they were cooked through. Know why? Because I didn’t read the “Biscuit Basics” chapter first. Silly me. So, I studied up, and tried again, and this time they most certainly were cloud-like. What I’m trying to say is, follow the man’s advice – he knows from which he speaks.

tomato parmesan biscuits

These make a great cold breakfast. Like pizza.

Next, I made the Tomato-Parmesan Biscuits, substituting fresh tomatoes for the tomato juice. Oh my. They were fantastic – perfectly soft and savory, completely outshining the meal I served them with. This one is a must-try.

cinnamon scones

Sugary and moist!

My next adventure was into the world of scones. I’ve never been a big scone fan – they always seemed dry and tasteless to me, but Mr. Gorilla is a bona fide Anglophile, and he begged me to try. I made the Plain Scones, but I added cinnamon and topped them with Daemerarra sugar for a little flavor. They were awesome! Light, fluffy, but still somehow dense enough to feel almost like a bread. Noms.

maple pinwheel biscuits

Gone in an instant!

My most recent attempt was the Maple Pinwheel Biscuits, to which I added brown sugar and cinnamon, and substituted pecans for the walnuts because I didn’t have any. They were amazing, especially after I drizzled them with powdered sugar icing. Mr. Gorilla and I ate the whole batch within twenty minutes of them leaving the oven.

So, the bottom line is that you should get this book. It does seem a little myopic at first glance, but there really is a whole world in there, once you start exploring. Play with techniques, experiment with flavors, and I guarantee you’ll add a few new staples to the household favorites list.