Cook the Book

Cook the Book: Still We Rise

By: Erin Byers Murray
COVER Still We Rise

As much as I love a good biscuit, I’ve never been much of a biscuit-maker—I usually leave it to the professionals. It might be because my mom wasn’t a biscuit baker—she, too, left it to the professionals, preferring one filled with sausage and cheese from a certain orange-hued Southern fast-food chain when we were on road trips. My mother-in-law, Becky, whom I adore, inherited her mother’s flour sifting cabinet, which sits in her kitchen—it earned its nicks and pockmarks thanks to many years of handmade biscuits and pies. Early in our marriage, Becky often greeted us with biscuits when we would visit but quickly admitted to me that though she loved her own mother’s biscuits, the ones she served us were usually straight from the freezer.

I’m not sure that being born into (or marrying) a biscuit-making family is a requirement for making expert biscuits at home. But as I learned from reading Erika Council’s new cookbook Still We Rise: A Love Letter to the Southern Biscuit with Over 70 Sweet and Savory Recipes (Clarkson Potter, 2023), it certainly prepares one well for it. I was drawn to Council’s manifesto on biscuits because when it comes to these Southern staples, I still have a lot to learn—specifically how to make a consistently good biscuit from scratch—and she’s the right teacher. Council comes from honest-to-goodness biscuit royalty as the granddaughter of Mildred Edna Cotton Council, who founded Mama Dip’s Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1976, which her daughters and granddaughters still run today.

In the book, Council shares her family history, as well as her own, which includes the back story of how she started baking biscuits as a side hustle to her software engineering job. A pop-up at Kimball House in Decatur, Georgia, led to more pop-ups with pitmaster Bryan Furman, which led to a sort of residency at his restaurant. After a Covid pivot to biscuit deliveries, she opened Bomb Biscuit Co., in 2021. Along the way, she’s built a voracious following, while also doing the work of honoring the many Black women bakers and cooks who have contributed to the culinary world with, among many things, their biscuit-making expertise.

Erika Council flour dusting for Still We Rise

While my hands don’t contain the same dough-rolling history as Council’s, in her book, she guides readers like me with a sage-like wisdom that can only come from years of standing at the counter, rolling out the dough. What I especially appreciate is her technique for rolled biscuits, which made me move from reading the book to pulling out the flour and butter and heading out for a large container of buttermilk. After shaving the butter into the flour and crumbling it by hand, she recommends folding and rolling the dough, or laminating it, a technique used to make croissants and other flaky pastries. Once the dough is rolled out into a rectangle, you fold it like a letter into thirds, then roll it flat again. Do this three times, she says—anymore and the dough toughens up. Her technique is foolproof, and it gave my biscuits good height, a delicately airiness, and layers of texture.

What’s more, within her pages, the author opens a door to rewriting history. She shares stories of Black cooks and cookbook authors of the past, like Lucille Bishop Smith who published a box set of recipe cards called Lucille’s Treasure Chest of Fine Foods in 1941, and is the great-grandmother of Houston chef Chris Williams.  As she writes: “In my research into biscuit books, none highlighted the contributions of Black bakers and chefs, yet my entire education on the subject has been guided by Black hands. […] This cookbook is a love letter to the African American women and men who have both inspired and taught me along the way.” Thank you, Erika, for getting the story back on track.  

bomb buttermilk biscuits from Still We Rise

The Bomb Buttermilk Biscuits

Whether you’re new to biscuit making or a seasoned pro, this recipe will change your biscuit game. When I say her recipe is foolproof, I mean it—in a form of recipe writing I personally appreciate, she teaches as she writes, weaving the “why” into the instructions. Tips like, “If you do add too much liquid, don’t just ‘add more flour’ as some recipes call for because your biscuits will not rise as they should,” help you understand the purpose of the instruction. She’s not heavy handed about this throughout the book but for this foundational recipe, I found it essential. Not to mention, these biscuits really are the bomb—show stoppers that stand tall like soldiers and flake apart like the pages of a good book. Eat them hot, slathered with Valerie’s Apple Butter.

bacon cheddar biscuits from Still We Rise

Bacon Cheddar Biscuits

I’m a sucker a for a good bacon, egg, and cheese and Council’s bacon cheddar biscuits make it even better by layering the good parts—smoky bacon and oozy cheddar—right into a tender, fragrant vehicle. These came together easily; I cut mine with a small, 1½-inch cutter to make them more bite-sized and easy for dunking into a stew or chili.

Valerie's Apple Butter from Still We Rise

Valerie’s Apple Butter

Throughout the book, Council shares personal essays and tributes to many of the people who have shaped her, and Valerie Boyd was one of them. A journalist and author based in Georgia, Boyd was a mentor to Council, especially in writing this book. Though Boyd has passed on, Council honors her with this heavenly apple spread that, as Council recommends, I find myself pulling out of the fridge to eat with a spoon.

Get these recipes and more in Still We Rise

Reprinted with permission from Still We Rise by Erika Council, copyright © 2023. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Photographs by Andrew Thomas Lee

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