21 February 2013
Homemade biscuits elevate a basic breakfast to new heights. In the case above, they transformed a couple of scrambled eggs into Comfort Food. If you're Southern (as I am, on my father's side), they can appear on the lunch or dinner table as well. So it's important to know how to make good ones. If you're English (as I am, on my mother's side), a biscuit is a cookie; what we're talking about here resembles a scone.
If you've only ever eaten the kind that comes in a tube that you whack on the edge of the counter to unfurl and pull apart, a homemade biscuit will be a revelation. Once you see how quickly they can be made from a few basic ingredients and how much better they taste, you will never eat another canned biscuit.
When I have buttermilk (or sour cream or plain yogurt) on hand, I make my other Biscuits recipe. But, unless I'm making other recipes that week that call for buttermilk, I'd rather use buttermilk powder than waste a carton.
The three keys to good biscuits are:
1 butter rather than shortening (Though there are plenty of people who make tasty biscuits with shortening, I don't eat the stuff. The only fats I use in my kitchen are organic butter, organic oils and "drippings" from organic meat.)
2 not over-mixing after adding the liquid (Working the dough too much after the liquid is added makes a tough biscuit.)
3 a very hot oven (This makes a biscuit with a crisp, golden exterior and a fluffy interior.)
Of course, I always use organic flour and buttermilk powder as well. Lots of Southern cooks swear by a certain soft wheat flour, and some cooks use part cake flour to approximate that flour. I just use organic unbleached all-purpose flour from Bob's Red Mill and have never felt the need for a softer flour. I use Organic Valley milk, butter and buttermilk powder. (And, no, I'm not on their payroll! Just like to tell you what products I use.)
(Makes 12 biscuits)
2 packed cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (if using food processor, put butter in the freezer for 15 minutes)
3/4 to 1 cup milk
1 Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly spray an insulated baking sheet with cooking spray. If you have a food processor and want to use it for this, with metal blade in place, combine the flour, buttermilk powder, baking powder and salt in work bowl of food processor. Pulse 3 times to combine. Add frozen butter and pulse 6 to 8 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal with some bigger chunks remaining. Transfer mixture to mixing bowl.
If not using a food processor, whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. With your fingers or a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the cold butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs with some bigger chunks remaining.
2 Pour milk over flour mixture and gently mix until just combined. Start with smaller amount of milk and add remainder only if mixture has dry spots.
3 On a lightly floured surface, gently pat the dough into about a 3/4-inch-thick 6x8-inch rectangle. Cut into 12 square biscuits, and then gently round each biscuit by hand (as in photo above) or leave square. (If you use a round biscuit cutter, you either waste dough or have some tough biscuits made from re-rolled dough.*) Place about 2 inches apart on the insulated baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. When I remember to do it, I brush the tops of the biscuits with a little milk before baking. It makes them pretty!
* Someday I'll get around to ordering this set of hexagon cutters that would solve the problem of wasted or re-rolled dough.
Biscuits may be frozen, double-wrapped, for up to one month. Thaw at room temperature, wrapped, then unwrap and heat at 350 for 5 minutes. Keep some on hand for biscuits and gravy (cream gravy that starts with some well-browned loose sausage).