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Biscuits

Of all the recipes I’ve made over and over, tweaking and refining and baking again, biscuits might hold the top slot. I’ve made multiple biscuit brackets. Imagine a football bracket, but with slots for amount of and kind of fat, baking powder and/or baking soda, and type of flour.


Biscuits are perennially appropriate, but I find myself making them most during this time of year when the berries pop off. I love a biscuit with whipped cream and berries. They’re great for backyard summer birthdays, loaded up and topped with a sparkler. I love a cobbler with biscuit topping. It’s like the casserole of desserts; easy to bake and transport, feeds lots of mouths, comforting on a cellular level. Also, biscuits make epic ice cream sandwiches.

Here's my beloved biscuit recipe, with all my kitchen notes and tips. Have fun.



Kitchen notes:


Biscuits are one of those things that are all about technique. It’s just a few elements, so you’ll want to use the best possible ingredients and then assemble them with care. Practice helps. You’ll get to know how much to work the butter in and how much to mix them only by doing it over and over until you get a feel for it and develop the muscle memory.


Flour: Use a low protein, soft white wheat pastry flour. You can make biscuits with all-purpose flour, but it makes a big difference. You’ll get much more loft and tenderness with low-protein flour. I like Sonora Pastry Flour from Hayden Mills, Camas Country Mill Club Wheat, or Central Milling Organic Pastry Flour.


Sift 3 times: If there’s one thing you take away from this recipe, let it be this. My husband is from Tennessee, land of White Lily Self-Rising Flour biscuits. When made well, these are like golden fluff ball clouds, incredibly light, golden crispy on the edges and honestly the platonic ideal of biscuits. I was trying to make biscuits that were just as good with a flour that wasn’t self-rising. Even when I used White Lily non-self-rising flour, and the recipe that was printed on the bag, side-by-side they were much denser than the ones made with self-rising flour.


I used to work at a little bakery/café called Summer Kitchen in Berkeley. Norma, the baker who trained me, was an absolute cake whisperer. When she was first training me, she showed me how to sift the flour and baking powder three times before mixing the cake together. I did it for a few weeks. Then one day, on a solo shift at 4 am, I decided it was excessive and I could skip it. You know what, I was honestly embarrassed when that cake came out of the oven. It was clearly not the cake it usually was. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I had messed up. I could clearly see that taking the extra step of sifting three times helped make the difference between a decidedly average cake and a beautiful one.


It makes a difference because of the distribution of the rising agent (baking powder in this case). If you think about it, sifting once will kind of scatter the baking powder through the flour a little bit. Sifting three times will really thoroughly distribute it, giving you a much more even and dramatic rise. If you want fluffy little golden crispy cloud biscuits, sift three times.


Working in the butter: I do this the same way I do for pie crust. I chop the butter into little cubes then pile all the flour and butter on a work table and use a rolling pin to roll the butter into the flour. There are lots of ways to incorporate the butter; using your fingers, a pastry cutter, a food processor. They’re all valid. Unlike the sifting three times thing, which I’m pretty adamant about, I think this part comes down a little bit to personal preference and what tools you have on hand. I like my method because it uses the things you’ll already be using (rolling pin, table) and because I just find it really fun to make floury butter flakes. But if you have a different method you love, go ahead and do what works in your particular world.




Biscuits


¾ cup buttermilk

¼ tsp kosher salt

2 cups pastry flour or other low-protein white wheat flour

1 Tbs baking powder

½ cup unsalted butter (2 Tbs separated and melted)



  • Pre-heat the oven to 425. Line or grease a baking sheet.

  • Measure buttermilk into a measuring cup. Add the salt and stir well. Place in the freezer until you are ready to use.

  • Set aside 2 Tbs of the butter to melt for brushing over the tops of the biscuits.

  • Place flour in a large bowl. Measure the baking powder and add it to the flour. Whisk them together, then sift together three times.

  • Chop the remaining butter into ¼ inch cubes. Scoop the flour out onto a clean work surface. Toss the butter cubes in the flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the butter into the flour, stopping to scoop everything back into a pile and rolling back out a few times, until you have lots of smears of butter and some of the flour is starting to look a little like wet sand.

  • Scoop the flour and butter back into the mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk all at once. Use a large fork to gently push the buttermilk and flour around until they are combined.

  • Scoop the dough out onto the work surface again and knead once or twice, just until it is a cohesive dough.

  • Use the rolling pin to gently pat and roll the dough flat. Dust flour lightly over the dough and fold in half (this will make a layer in the middle that won’t seal when you bake. It will make it so each biscuit opens up easily, sort of like an English muffin that’s already split in the middle). Tap or roll out to about ¾ inch thick.

  • Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or flat-sided glass. Gently push and scraps back together and cut, until you have one biscuit worth of scraps remaining. Use your hands to shape that one gently into a round.

  • Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, about ½ inch apart. You want them to be close enough to hold each other up if they start to fall, but not so close that they don’t allow each other to grow (like best friends).

  • Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the edges and tops are starting to brown. Melt the butter for brushing while they are baking. After ten minutes, take them out of the oven and quickly brush with melted butter. Return them to the oven for 1-2 more minutes, until golden brown on top.

Serve immediately. Any leftovers can be quickly revived in a hot oven.



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