611 O’Keefe Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana 70113
Louisianans love to dwell on the details of their most recent meal, and as the state that practically invented brunch (a disputed fact, but we’ll take credit, thank you) the standards are particularly high for morning fare.
The state, and the Crescent City specifically, has seen an influx of breakfast-y joints over the past few years, but one in particular has hit a high note with residents and visitors alike.
When you walk into the bright, modern space in New Orleans’ South Market District that is Willa Jean, you’re instantly hit with the intoxicating scent of freshly baked bread and pulled espresso. Guests are greeted by a large sign declaring “U Needa Biscuit,” and never has a suggestion been more true.
Headed by Lisa White and Kelly Fields, Willa Jean is a bakery and a restaurant, but more importantly it is a celebration of bread. Serving as the foundation of the menu, buttery brioche, sweet Hawaiian rolls, chewy focaccia, and more form the base of a decadent variety of savory creations.
The duo’s biscuits in particular have garnered a considerable following. On their own, or simply buttered up and topped with jam, these fluffy treats are a carb-lover’s dream.
What sets these biscuits apart, you ask? A brilliant mix of technique, ingredients, and a little bit of magic.
“The technique is pretty simple,” Kelly says. “Combine the dry ingredients, cut in cold butter, finish with buttermilk until the flour is hydrated. The dough is then rolled, folded over several times, and then cut. We let the biscuits rest in the cooler and then brush them with cream before baking.”
The secret ingredient is the flour.
Lisa says, “I can't believe we are telling the world this…but we use Caputo “00” Pasta Fresca. This flour is milled from a specific part of the wheat, and the result is a light and tender product.”
The magic comes from years of experience.
“My mom is an incredible baker, from whom I still steal recipes,” says Kelly. “Baking was a constant part of our home kitchen, even from a young age.”
Lisa says, “I grew up playing with recipes from Betty Crocker cookbook - the red edition. And then I remember getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking and it petrified me!”
The two eventually found their way into chef and restaurateur John Besh’s various restaurants, where Kelly has spent years developing the company’s pastry programs. Lisa honed her craft, perfecting the breads and sweets as Domenica, a stylish Italian eatery.
Lisa and Kelly joined forces in 2015 with the goal of opening a restaurant/bakery that combined everything they love about food and hospitality into one space.
“Willa Jean was my grandmother's name,” says Kelly. “It became a natural fit. My grandmother always encouraged me to be true to myself, and to put all of myself on the line in everything that I do. She was by far the biggest advocate in my life for pursuing my passion for food and service.”
“Once Kelly said ‘Willa Jean,’ it just seemed perfect,” says Lisa. “I remember her saying ‘Let’s sleep on it,’ but I already knew that was the name.”
Since then the pair have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, and are paying it forward by passing on their biscuit recipe.
Kelly’s biscuit-making advice is “Work quickly, keep everything cold, and don’t overthink it,” while Lisa muses, “Have fun! It’s just food.”
(Link with brunch history: http://www.louisianacookin.com/louisianas-best-brunch/)
Biscuits with Sausage gravy
Yields 8 servings
32 ounces pork sausage
1 cup all-purpose flour
9 cups milk (2qt 1 cup)
2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon red crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon of tabasco
Cooking method and Preparation:
Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until beef is no longer pink.
Once meat is cooked sprinkle the one cup of flour over meat until all meat is coated and a light fond is created (do not let it get dark). Turn heat to high, gradually whisk in milk, whisking constantly, 7 to 10 minutes or until gravy is thicken to your liking add in salt, pepper, red crushed pepper and tabasco. Cook for another 5 min. Taste to make sure flour has been cooked out, if not cook for another 5 min or until gravy doesn't have a flour taste. Adjust seasoning as needed.
If gravy is to thick, thin it out with milk. Make sure milk and gravy are both hot.
If gravy is too thin, melt 4oz of butter, stir in 4oz of flour, cook for 5 min (until flour taste is gone) and slowly add into hot gravy. Cook for 5 minutes or until gravy thickens up (you may or may not use all of the roux).
2cup caputo flour (cake flour works too)
5tablespoons butter, grated through a cheese grater and chilled
2tablespoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 365
Add all dry to a large bowl and mix by hand until combined.
Grate cold butter and add to dry mixture.
Add buttermilk to mixture and combine until all of the dry ingredients are hydrated.
Put the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle 12inch by 8inch.
Fold the top of the rectangle halfway toward the middle, fold the bottom of the rectangle on top. Flour the top and invert.
Roll into an approximate 12 inch by 8inch rectangle.
With seams facing down, roll into a square.
Cut into squares of desired size. Brush with buttermilk. Bake at 365 until tops and bottoms are golden brown and the middle have set. Around 30 minutes.
This blog was submitted by one of the International Biscuit Festival freelance writers, Courtney McDuff, who also obtained these photos. Courtney is the Online Editor at Hoffman Media, publisher of Louisiana Cookin’ magazine. Check out more great Louisiana recipes at louisianacookin.com.