Why Southerners are obsessed with White Lily flour
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of eating a biscuit outside of the South, you start might ask yourself why other regions of the country fall short on the road to biscuit goodness. We can likely attribute some of it to tradition: Southerners have been making biscuits for generations and have had ample time to hone our craft. However, any chef with good technique can produce a decent biscuit.
If butter or shortening and buttermilk are the controls in our experiment, the real variable lies in the flour. Ask any Southern chef or sagacious biscuit grandma and you’ll hear a pattern emerge: they all swear by White Lily flour.
What’s so special about this revered Southern flour? Essentially, it all comes down to protein, or lack thereof. White Lily flour is derived from soft winter wheat, which is low in protein and gluten. When a liquid is introduced to flour, the proteins in the flour—glutenin and gliadin—swell and develop an elasticity that becomes enhanced when worked by hand or machine. Gluten development provides flour-based foods with structure and a toothsome quality, beneficial for foods like French baguettes or homemade pasta that need to hold together. Conversely, biscuits fall under the quick bread category, which are much more soft and tender than their well-kneaded cousins. Even if the amount of kneading or physical work to the dough is minimized, biscuits made from all-purpose flour can still emerge tough and dense.
Whereas conventional all-purpose flour contains a protein content of 12 percent, White Lily flour boasts a modest 9 percent, making it more similar to pastry flour than actual all-purpose. As White Lily flour hydrates, the gluten development will never reach the full potential of brands like Gold Medal or King Arthur. The result is a lighter, fluffier biscuit with a greater rise. Fundamentally, there is little to no difference in buying White Lily’s self-rising flour and adding additional salt and baking powder to White Lily’s all-purpose flour. Although if you favor more consistency in the blend, go for the self-rising.
If you happen to live in a part of the country where White Lily flour is unavailable, you still have options. First, just order it off the internet. Big-box suppliers like Amazon can easily ship dry goods throughout the country, and you can order enough to keep your shelves biscuit-ready for quite some time. Is your biscuit craving more immediate, even beyond the scope of overnight delivery service? You can make your own White Lily facsimile by replacing half of your conventional all-purpose or self-rising flour with cake flour. Cake flour has a 6-percent protein content, which, when mixed in equal proportions with 12 percent all-purpose flour yields a total of 9-percent protein. In the immortal words of Thomas Dolby, “Science!”
While the protein and gluten content of the flour holds greater importance than the actual brand, White Lily flour provides one of the most user-friendly blends on the market, worthy of the lavish praise it receives from chefs and home cooks alike.