Biscuits: Simple, Delicious Addition to Any Menu
November is here! Time to dust off the roasting pan and start planning Thanksgiving dinner. I love to prepare the Thanksgiving feast. Maybe because it’s the only day of the year that I have the opportunity to use every pot, pan, serving dish, and cooking utensil that I own. Or, maybe it’s because I get to spend the entire day in my favorite place, at home in the kitchen.
Each year the menu is the same – turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, green beans, rolls & butter, and pumpkin pie for dessert. I guess I should say that the menu is the same only different because I like to mix it up every time – last year I brined the turkey (easy to do, great results), the year before I tried a new mashed sweet potato recipe with spinach, honey, and Dijon mustard, and the year before that I made a fabulous pumpkin cheesecake rather than a pumpkin pie.
This year I’m going to experiment with biscuits. Easy to make and incredibly delicious, biscuits are made with baking powder or baking soda as the leavening agent rather than yeast. No yeast means that biscuits do not need time to rise before baking. There are rolled biscuits (biscuits made from dough rolled and cut), drop biscuits (biscuits made from dough with enough milk that it can be dropped from a spoon), baking powder biscuits (leavened with baking powder), buttermilk biscuits (leavened with buttermilk and soda), angel biscuits, cloud biscuits, sweet potato biscuits – many varieties to choose from.
When making biscuits, keep in mind that more flour leads to a heavy biscuit, less flour leads to a lighter biscuit. Higher baking temperatures lead to crispier outsides, and lower baking temperatures lead to paler, softer crusts. Biscuit dough should be handled as little as possible with minimum stirring of ingredients. Over-mixing the dough often results in biscuits that don’t rise high enough, are not flaky, are not light and fluffy, and are tough.
For high, fluffy biscuits, mix the dough completely and bake the biscuits immediately. Don’t allow the dough to stand for even a short amount of time. The first action of double-acting baking powder takes place when liquid is added, the second action takes place when it is exposed to heat, so to maximize the leavening get the mixed and cut biscuits into the oven as quickly as possible. Biscuits should be baked in a preheated oven so that the heat forces the baking powder to act instantly.
The traditional way to make biscuits is with lard, which is 100 percent fat, and it produces the lightest, most tender biscuits. The next best is vegetable shortening, which is a combination of animal and vegetable fat. Butter and margarine are richer in flavor but are only 80 percent fat. Based on my initial biscuit research, it appears that the ultimate biscuit would have the flaky texture produced by lard, the fluffiness produced by vegetable shortening, and the rich flavor of butter. I figure if I start experimenting with biscuits now, I should have a winning technique by the time Thanksgiving arrives.
Cheddar Chive Biscuits
from Anne-Marie Blanco, Quiessence Patissier
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 tablespoon baking powder
4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
3 Tbl. Chopped chives
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is in pea-size pieces.
Toss in the chives and cheese.
Make a well add the buttermilk to the center of the well. Mix until combined. Do not overmix.
On a slightly floured surface roll the biscuits out to 3/4” thickness. Cut to desired size. (1-1/2 inch cutter produces about 16 biscuits).
The scraps may be re-rolled once to form more biscuits.
Brush the cut biscuits with melted butter and bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
Shaping the dough directly on the baking sheet makes short work of homemade biscuits. Serve these biscuits warm with butter.
1-3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and powder in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to combine. Add butter, and process until dough looks like coarse oatmeal. Add buttermilk, and process a few seconds more, until dough just comes together.
Turn out dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pat into a 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 wedges, but do not separate.
Bake biscuits until golden brown on top and firm, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with butter.
Cornmeal Drop Biscuits
1/2cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Whisk to combine. Add the butter, and, using a pastry blender or two knives, cut it in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add milk, and stir until just combined.
Spoon 10 mounds, about 1/2 cup each, onto baking sheet 1 inch apart; bake until biscuits start to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.
Old Fashioned Biscuit Pudding
Add a little cinnamon to this biscuit pudding for extra flavor.
4 leftover biscuits
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place bread and 1 cup milk in 1-1/2 quart baking dish; soak until soft. Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add butter, vanilla, and remaining milk. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, or until custard is firm and a knife inserted in center comes out clean.