Confessions of a Biscuit Groupie

The Road to the Biscuit Festival | Persnickety Biscuit

The International Biscuit Festival is this weekend. If you have not already made plans to attend, you should. Just cancel whatever you had going on Saturday and get your hungry self to Knoxville. If you are already in Knoxville? Well, lucky you! Check out my festival tips from two years ago and head downtown on Saturday morning for some biscuit goodness! In honor of this weekend’s festival, I am posting my recap from last year. If you are on the fence about attending, perhaps this will change your mind.


Pork Maple Syrup Biscuit


Biscuitfest 2014

It was almost a disaster. I bought my ticket and happily traipsed off, only to look down at my hand and realize in horror that I had somehow already lost the ticket. Not twenty yards from the booth! I felt like a little kid whose ice cream had rolled off the cone onto the ground. I must have looked like one, too, as M. went back to the booth and explained. The kind fest-worker peeled another ticket off of the stack and handed it to me. Whew. Disaster averted.

Biscuit Ticket | Persnickety Biscuit

Humbled, we began again. Luckily, the previous day I had gone back and read my advice to festival goers from last year. One of the key pieces of advice was to arrive early. Tickets go on sale at 8:30 and they start serving biscuits at 9:00. Technically. But several started serving early, including Tupelo Honey, so we were able to get one of their large, fluffy, peach BBQ chicken topped masterpieces before a line really formed.

Biscuit Festival 2014

With a biscuit in our stomachs and a thimbleful of coffee (given away by one of the Biscuit Boulevard vendors), we were fortified and began sampling our way through the festival.

Biscuit Festival 2014

Biscuit Festival 2014

These were incredible – from Nashville-based Biscuit Love. That tomato jam. That pimento cheese. That biscuit.

After a few biscuits, we stopped eating the whole serving. We knew from last year that you can get very full very fast. It is kind of a waste, I know, but if you want to try a lot of biscuits, you need a strategy. There were a few that were smaller and we fully consumed those, and others were just so darn good that we ate every bite before realizing what we had done. We got a kick out of the couple we met in line who were filling up bags with their biscuit selections. They were going to take them home to enjoy in the peace and quiet.

Biscuit Festival 2014

We moved back and forth among the lines of booths until at some point we realized that we could not move at all. The lines had gotten so long and the crowd so thick that you could not tell where one started and another ended. Still, there were biscuits to be tasted. We bought a third and final ticket for our last selections and got into one of the longest lines with an elaborate biscuit at the end of it. The line stretched around the corner and about a block down the side of the building. It was, ironically, kind of a relief to be out of the crush of humanity on the main drag. Eventually, we made it through the line for that biscuit and our remaining spots in our ticket were filled quickly.


Points for presentation – this one was from Biscuit Head out of North Carolina, I think. Called Country Fried Dream. And it was.


Biscuit Festival 2014

It was called the Hawaiian Hillbilly. I just remember there was bacon involved and some kind of banana jam. Sublime.

After the biscuits, we stopped at the Sprouted Designs booth, since it is owned and operated by M’s cousin. We bought a couple of gifts and then she gifted us with a few towels as a wedding gift, which we will treasure. Such a nice surprise!

On our way out of the festival, we glanced at the booths we had missed. I noticed that this one had a full jar of votes for best biscuit and realized we had probably missed something really good. One more reason to return in 2015!

Biscuit Festival 2014

Terrible picture, I know, but I had to include it. This one won and we did not even get to try it! There was corn, tomato, and Bentons Bacon involved, apparently.



Apple, Basil, Cheddar Biscuit (Paige’s Family Dinner Biscuit)

Apple, Basil, Cheddar Biscuit (Paige's Family Dinner Biscuit)


That’s what my friend said after I gave her half a dozen of these biscuits as part of her birthday present. There were other adjectives as well, but “luscious” was the subject line of the email she sent me, so that is the one I remember the best. She did not share them with her husband or son, but savored them privately over the course of the week.

Where did this biscuit recipe come from?

If you have not read my previous post, you might want to. The creator of this recipe, Matt Sandbank, was kind enough to give me permission to write about and share his award-winning (International Biscuit Festival) recipe in this blog. When I opened his email, I was really excited about the combination of ingredients, especially the fresh basil, since I have masses of it in my garden. Score!


These herb scissors are my favorite new kitchen tool.

After my excitement about the chance meeting with this biscuit aficionado and his recipe, I just hoped the biscuits would be good and that I would not botch the making of them!

What is persnickety about this biscuit recipe?

Strangely enough, it was the apple. I ended up making these twice. The first time, M. was assisting. I asked him to chop the apple into small pieces. That he did. Very small pieces. Seemed like a great idea, but the apple sort of got lost in the final product.

Apple, Basil, Cheddar

See how tiny those apple bits are?

The second time I made them, I was careful to create nice sized chunks of apple. That time, you absolutely knew when you were biting into an apple chunk.

The other thing I found really interesting is while the recipe uses self-rising flour, it also has added baking powder. This is the first time I’ve run across a recipe that adds more baking powder. I wonder if that made them more fluffy than they would be otherwise?

Apple, Basil, Cheddar

Larger pieces of apple this time.

What changes were made in the making of this biscuit recipe?

As few as possible. I wanted to represent this recipe well and get as close as I could to how Matt would have made them. I was out of corn meal so did not dust the baking sheet with it for either attempt. That is the only alteration I made to ingredients.

Apple, Basil, Cheddar

Look at all those goodies mixed with the flour.

I used good quality sharp cheddar that I grated myself. Matt specified a Granny Smith apple. I have always loved their tart crispness, so was happy to comply.

The first time I made these I even cut them into rounds and spread them out on the baking sheet, as directed. The second time, though, I reverted to rectangles baked very close together. It has become such a habit to make biscuits this way that I did not even think about it until they were done.

Apple, Basil, Cheddar Biscuit Dough (Paige's Family Dinner Biscuit)

So how were the biscuits?

I am so happy to report that I can understand how they won an award. This recipe is now high on my list of favorites. They were so moist and the basil lent a stunning burst of fresh flavor that worked perfectly with the cheese and the mild sweetness of the apple.

Apple, Basil, Cheddar Biscuit (Paige's Family Dinner Biscuit)

As I said, the apple got kind of lost in the first batch, but I do think it is what made the biscuit so moist, even the next day. I may use that to my advantage in future biscuit recipes.

I took the second batch to a Labor Day cookout and there was a lot of excitement around the biscuits. First, they are just so pretty with the ribbons of basil and melted cheese and slightly toasted tops. And then you taste them. Divine.

Apple, Basil, Cheddar Biscuit (Paige’s Family Dinner Biscuit)

I served them with honey butter and also a peppery, spicy honey butter that could have been a bit spicier. Both worked well with the savory-sweet biscuits.

As the evening wore on, there was this one biscuit that kept getting cut in half and one half eaten, then cut in half again and so on. You know, how no one wants to be responsible for taking the last bit? Finally, I grabbed the last bite and finished them off myself.

Apple, Basil, CheddarBiscuit (Paige's Family Dinner Biscuit)

How were the leftovers prepared?

I’m going to have to start making larger batches or not sharing them so liberally if I want leftover biscuits to play with. There was just one biscuit left the next day from the first batch. I nibbled on it over the course of a couple of days. It was really good – even at room temperature.

Nothing was left from the second batch. I had piled all the dough into one pan, cut it in place, then took the whole pan to the party, so that I could easily heat them up there.

The final word? Make these biscuits. Now. Tonight. This weekend. Then share them with someone you love.

Apple, Basil, Cheddar Biscuit (Paige's Family Dinner Biscuit)

>>>Click here for printable biscuit recipe.

Paige’s Family Dinner Biscuits (from Matt Sandbank)

Ingredients (in order of use):

2 cups White Lilly self-rising flour

1 and 1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder

6 tbs unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 cup cheddar cheese

1/2 cup fresh basil, cut finely

1 large Granny Smith Apple, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 cup buttermilk, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup measurements

a pinch or two of corn meal

Method of preparation:

  1. mix flour and baking powder together thoroughly
  2. sprinkle cubes of butter across the top of the flour/baking powder mixture, then use a “pinching” gesture to break down all of the butter cubes into pea-sized or smaller chunks
  3. immediately move flour/baking powder/butter mixture to a cold place while preparing ingredients for step 4
  4. mix cheddar cheese, basil, and apple together
  5. make a hollow in the center of the flour/butter, then add cheese/apple/basil, and then mix evenly
  6. reform a hollow and add 3/4 cup buttermilk, using the 1/4 cup in reserve if needed flour hands and move dough onto a floured cutting board. Flour the top of the dough and fold twice in half before pressing out into a sheet. Dip biscuit cutter into flour and cut out biscuits, taking time to relish the sensation of the cutter slicing through chunks of apple as you do so.
  7. sprinkle corn meal on an oven tray and arrange biscuits with an inch or so between them on the tray
  8. bake at 400 degrees for 16-20 minutes, rotating oven tray at the eight-minute mark.

An Encounter with a Biscuit Star

What are the chances? How do the stars align in such a way as to bring biscuit people together so unexpectedly?

Biscuit Poetry

Biscuit Poetry

Here’s the story. We arrived late to the Yelp event and found ourselves seated next to an interesting couple we had not met before. It was a rather long, drawn out meal with a multitude of courses so we had plenty of time to chat and get to know one another. She is getting her PhD in Special Education. He is a puppeteer. Really. A puppeteer. You don’t run into those every day, do you?

At one point M. and I were talking about biscuits, as we frequently do these days. The husband, who was seated next to me, turned and said, “Excuse me, but are you talking about biscuits?”

“Yes. I am kind of obsessed with biscuits.” I confessed. “I have a blog that is all about biscuits.”

“Have you been to the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville?” he asked.

“YES! We DID go to the biscuit festival this year!”

At that point, he shared that he had actually competed in the Bake-off at the Biscuit Festival, in the savory category. He won first place in the category! I felt like I was seated next to a star, a Biscuit Superstar. What are the chances? Seriously. I was beside myself.

Biscuit Trophy

Much discussion of biscuits ensued. The proper kind of baking powder (aluminum-free). The variety of biscuits tasted at the festival (like the Pimiento Cheese one). Favorite biscuit places (he recommends Biscuitville in North Carolina). How the Bake-off actually works (prep before you get there). We had to admit that we were so stuffed after sampling all the biscuits at the festival, that we did not stick around for the Bake-off. We will have to change that next time!

Well, he was kind enough to share his award-winning recipe for Paige’s Family Dinner Biscuits and photos from the bake-off. Don’t you just love the eyes and the quotes? I particularly liked the “hyacinths and biscuits” one. It is from Carl Sandburg.

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will include the recipe and my attempt to recreate these winning savory biscuits!

Biscuits and Quotes

Paige’s Family Dinner Biscuits

Thank you to Matt Sandbank for the photos and upcoming recipe!

International Biscuit Festival 2013

What a beautiful, rainy, crowded biscuity day it was! May 18, 2013. My first International Biscuit Festival and it did not disappoint.

This was one of my favorites. The Green-eyed Monster Pimiento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit from Biscuit Mecca, aka Tupelo Honey Cafe.

It was huge, moist, slightly spicy, and fabulously flavorful. The pimiento cheese was in the biscuit dough, while the “monster” from the title was a deep fried pepper.

Green-eyed Monster Pimiento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit
That, folks, is just the beginning. More later….