If you've ever experienced a really good buttermilk biscuit, you can attest that it's nearly impossible to stop after just one. The layers of flavor marry salty, savory and a touch of tang in a perfect harmony that could best be described as the pinnacle of good old-fashioned Southern cooking.
Fast-food chain, Bojangles, has been delivering authentic Southern staples — including the buttermilk biscuit — to the masses since 1977. With over 700 restaurants primarily in the Southeast region, it prides itself on entirely microwave-free restaurants — an absolute feat in modern fast food times. While it serves up delicious fried chicken along with all the fixins, it's the biscuits that continue to draw attention.
In an age where many restaurants are looking to cut corners, this signature item is made using Bojangles' tried-and-true, 49-step, made-from-scratch recipe. The result? A buttery biscuit with a crispy golden outside and a pillowy inside. Served as is or loaded with breakfast favorites like eggs and crunchy bacon, it's a labor of love for this bite of fast food perfection.
Buttermilk biscuits can be traced back to the simpler times of the 19th century when many people were employed to work on farms. Out of sheer necessity, they found innovative ways to use whatever ingredients they had left in order to fend for themselves.
"Biscuits were one of those cheap foods," explains Bojangles vice president of menu and culinary innovation, Marshall Scarborough. "They had a lot of extra lard leftover from processing pigs and they had to find a use for all of those ingredients."
Over the years, recipes evolved as they were passed down from generation to generation. "I feel like in the South, biscuits are a lot like gumbo in Louisiana," Scarborough adds. "Everybody's gumbo is the best and everybody's gumbo is just a little different."
Joining the company in 2020, Scarborough brings decades of knowledge in Southern cuisine to the table and arrived with a very personal connection to the company: he grew up in the South eating Bojangles regularly. Hoping to add fresh modern twists to the favorites of his youth, Scarborough has been enlisted to expand the chain to other markets without comprising the company's humble beginnings. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to the quality of the biscuit.
Who is responsible for ensuring each and every biscuit meets the Bojangles standard?
Each restaurant is staffed with a certified Master Biscuit Baker (MBB) — that's a real job. Jealousy aside, it is a labor-intensive position that requires extensive training. After countless hours of practice, the hopeful MBB will complete a test that challenges both their skills and knowledge. Here, they'll have to prove they are not only well-versed in each of the 49 steps that go into making a Bojangles biscuit, but the reasoning behind each of them. The final consists of a practical examination where they must prepare an entire batch of biscuits in five minutes or less before watchful eyes. At the end of the baking process, all of the biscuits are given a quality check.
Once earning such designation, the newfound Master Biscuit Baker is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring quality control is in tip top shape at their restaurant location.
The 49-step process may sound daunting, but much of it is common sense techniques that while simple, are still vital to the biscuit. "If you cut a corner or skip a step there will be a consequence in the finished product," Scarborough adds. "When you get that Bojangles biscuit experience, it's soft like cake on the inside and then you get a nice crispy shell on the exterior. You get contrasting textures, just a little bit of a tang from the buttermilk, and then the salty, butteriness from the butter that we brush on afterwards. It's all about contrasting these different flavors — salty, sour, savory."
While some techniques may be common, a few call for the utmost attention to details. "The key to a good biscuit is just don't overwork the dough," Scarborough explains. "That's when you knock the air out of it and there's no coming back from that. Or, if you overwork it, you develop the gluten (a protein that determines whether a baked good is dense and chewy or light and airy) too much."
Bojangles has gotten biscuit-making down to a precise science but as the company grows it is continually re-assessing and re-evaluating the product. "We're still perfecting it," Scarborough tells Yahoo Life. "We're constantly finding ways because the recipe is the easy part, scaling the recipe across over 700 restaurants is really hard. We're constantly fine-tuning those procedures and doing whatever we can to improve the consistency from location to location."
Looking to add a little Southern comfort to your own kitchen? Scarborough shares some tips for the home cook to use when whipping up biscuits of their own.
"Regardless of whatever type of fat you choose to use, I like to freeze the fat and then cut it into small pieces with a knife and then refreeze those small pieces," he offers. "I also like to put my flour in the freezer and make sure the buttermilk is ice cold."
"There's a theme," Scarborough says. "You get all these cold ingredients and mix them together and then put them in a 400-degree oven — it's half physical reaction and half chemical reaction that's causing the biscuits to rise and become those fluffy little pillows of awesomeness."
In a pinch and want to liven up store-bought canned biscuits? No problem.
"I definitely recommend topping them with some kind of margarine-based butter spread before they go in the oven," says Scarborough. "The reason the margarine baste is important is because butter will actually burn at higher temperatures. Coming out of the oven, put some fresh butter on them right after. If you want to get crazy, you can sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on top."
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