Saturday, April 28, 2012

Loveless Cafe Biscuits

Ever since I visited Nashville last spring, I've been obsessed with the biscuits they serve at the Loveless Cafe.  The Loveless was once a motel out in the country on Highway 100 at the northernmost part of Natchez Trace Parkway.  But now it has been overtaken by Nashville suburbia, and the motel rooms have been converted into charming shops.   Anne Loveless' original biscuit recipe from the 1950s is still used there today.   I agree with Food Network that their biscuits are the best in the USA - even USA Today said that the  "miraculously flaky and feathery biscuits” from Loveless Cafe, were “Nashville's second-most-important contribution to American culture".   Jane and Michael Stern of Splendid Table fame even wrote a cookbook devoted to the Loveless, but you won't find the biscuit recipe in it.   It's a closely guarded secret.   Carol Faye Ellison,  Loveless' legendary biscuit baker, even enjoyed brief fame before her untimely death by appearing on NBC's Today, Martha Stewart, Ellen, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, CBS’s Early Show and many other shows baking biscuits.   She never shared the recipe, however.   The Loveless still serves the biscuits, but I understand Carol Faye was quite the showstopper when she brought the hot biscuits out to the many hungry patrons.   I am sad I never got to see her in action.

Many on the internet have tried to duplicate the Loveless biscuit recipe, and I tried some of their attempts, but they all came up flat.  After much research and watching many youtube videos of Carol Faye in her various TV appearances, I determined that the Loveless Cafe biscuits had to be a specific variant of a Southern style biscuit called an "angel biscuit" which have yeast in them and Carol Faye always had to give time to rise.    This type of biscuit was also called a "bridal biscuit" because it had 3 kinds of leavening in them yeast, baking soda, and Southern soft wheat self-rising flour - it gave new brides extra insurance that their biscuits would come out light and airy.   I tried many recipes of this style biscuit, but the one that led me on the right track was out of the The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook which I really need to own someday.    I tweaked it to make it more like the Loveless - the biscuits are smaller and saltier and are much taller than in the cookbook.   From my research, it looks like Carol Faye uses oil instead of shortening, but I always have shortening on hand so that's what I use.   At the Loveless, biscuits are cut small - Carol Faye said in an interview that she used to use a tomato paste can to cut out her biscuits, so I use a shotglass to cut out mine.

Use any size cutter you want, but make sure to pack them in your pan tightly and let them rise a long time, until they are doubled.   I let mine rise for hours in an oven that I preheated to 250 F and then shut off.    These biscuits are not quick to make, for sure!   Howeverm the dough can be made a head and refrigerated for up to a week for even better flavor.

Loveless Cafe Style Biscuits

yield: about 80 small biscuits

1 (¼-ounce) packet active dry yeast
2 tablespoons lukewarm water (105º to 115ºf )
5 cups Southern soft-wheat self-rising flour* 
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup buttermilk powder
2 cups water
Nonstick cooking spray
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted

* Note that Carol Faye used Martha White self rising flour, and so do I.  Self rising flour is hard to find in Michigan, but Meijer carries it.   There has been much written about the demise of White Lily flour since they closed the mill in Knoxville. So go with the Martha White!


Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Set aside until the yeast looks foamy.  Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Use your fingertips to cut in the shortening until the pieces are the size of peas. Stir the buttermilk powder and water into the dissolved yeast. Stir into the flour mixture using a fork, just until moistened.  (at this point the dough can be refrigerated)
Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set  it aside. Knead the dough lightly, about six turns. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a ½-inch thickness. Stamp out biscuits with a 1 1/2-inch cutter. (Don’t twist the cutter  or the biscuits will rise taller on one side.) Gather, roll, and cut the scraps. Arrange the biscuits with sides touching on the prepared baking sheet - pack them in tightly. Cover with a damp lint-free towel. Let the biscuits rise in a warm place until they have doubled in bulk, at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 425ºf. Bake until the biscuits are lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Brush the tops with the melted butter and serve hot.

Serve them like they do at the Loveless with jam or honey.    Well worth the effort!


Ellie B said...

Does this mean that you have some warm biscuits cooling in your kitchen? Might have to stop by, ummm to borrow some sugar?

Beth Kane said...

Gotta try! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Anonymous said...

Who cares for biscuits French bread is better

Therese said...

I assure you Anonymous there are a lot of us who care. I am compling a lsit to try, I found your link from Noshings. Thanks for sharing!

Fortune Cookies said...

this has my mouth watering. Being a Nashville native, I make some pretty darn good biscuits myself, but nothing compares to the Loveless Cafe's. I can't wait to try this recipe!

Buy Biscuits Online said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The following are comments I have found on the net: The biscuits won some award. They use White Lily Self-Rising Flour, Real Buttermilk and melted lard. The biscuits are mixed up and let set overnight in the refrigerator to rise. They brush them with butter before and after baking.They let them set for 30 minutes before baking them. They bake at 400* for 15 min. or so. I remember on the Ellen Show, Ellen helped Carol Fay mix them up and one of the ingredients smelled like gin. That could be the yeast. I still think they are some sort of Angel Biscuit.

Anonymous said...

Hi. In an interview, Carol Fay stated, “They (Loveless Cafe) had been using powdered milk, buttermilk, and water.” ... “But with powdered milk, you make a dough that chunks and gunks. So I took it out of the recipe.”
I have watched all the videos and read everything I could, as well. On the various talk shows, she was never consistent with the ingredients she used. But, biscuits have basic ingredients, and, I agree she adds yeast. She made the dough...lets it rise...and then when she needed the dough...grabbed what dough she needed, rolled it out, cut, and then let the biscuits rise 30 minutes before baking. Letting the remainder of the dough sit and ferment never hurts.
We may never know her exact recipe, but we can come close enough. I've learned enough from her to 'tweak' a recipe to make some Cathead biscuits. :)

Anonymous said...

New Yorkers like French Bread. REAL people love biscuits

Anonymous said...

There's just something about biscuits and the ones at the Loveless Cafe are amazing.

I have moved back to the UK now and I miss biscuits so much - self raising flour is the easy part here...buttermilk powder not to be found anywhere so I will have to try and convince my Texan Mother-in-Law to send some over.

The pics look fab so I'm really looking forward to trying these!

Unknown said...

Having just visited the Loveless Cafe for the first time, this year, I agree that the bisuits are amazing. I will try this rcipe myself very soon. The question I have is, when you say that you can leave the dough in the fridge, do you let it rise first (2 hours) and then store it or do does it rise in the fridge? Thank you!

Cynthia said...

If you want to refrigerate it, do it before the rise.

Anonymous said...

I was there today and they are still using white Lilly flour. I saw the empty bags.

Anonymous said...

As a transplanted southerner in Michigan, Mejier has always been the source for southern comfort ingredients. But now King Arthur now makes an unbleached self-rising flour that is wonderful for these recipes., all the benefits of White Lily or Martha White in a healthier mix. I have used their malted barley flour for years for all kinds of quick breads.

Anonymous said...

I just collected all the ingredients for the biscuits above and can't wait to make them. I am from GA, but I live in Portland OR. I remember cafes in the South having biscuits that are like the ones described above, they are not crumbly like most recipes I see. My great Aunt made them too years ago. I found this recipe by searching for "bread-like biscuits", I knew it had to be a thing but there is practically no info on it...

Missy said...

The receipe calls for self rising flour so usually you wouldn't have to add sugar,salt & baking soda

Anonymous said...

I've heard she used melted lard instead of solid shortening.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm allergic to all beef and pork caused by a tick bit. Can't come in contact with beef or pork products. Just ate there they said the use Lard. So I couldn't eat the biscuits

Daisey Moonshine said...

In addition to self rising flour, baking powder, baking soda and yeast, I think you need to add Gluten to the recipe. All the times I had made bread was a failure, until I added a teaspoon of Vital Wheat Gluten. It was a game changer. Also, most restaurants use a fake liquid butter flavored "oil" called Butter It. People just love it, especially on buttery parmesan hot wings. I would also have to agree that the recipe is an angel biscuit.