The second instalment in my new weekly column, where I talk about food basics, and give you the step by step know-how to do it at home.
The restaurant where I work recently started to do brunch, and before we opened I was chatting with the chef about what kinds of pastries he might want. The original idea was croissants which, despite obviously being delicious, are also so tedious to make, especially in a kitchen with as little counter space as ours, so I threw out the idea of making biscuits.
This did not go over.
Biscuits are dry, biscuits are bland, biscuitsare over done, and never delicious.
So I, being the super competitive person that I am, decided to make him some. I made savoury biscuits, ones with chunks of cheddar and dots of scallions, and let the restaurant fill up with the smell of cooking butter and melting cheese. And then I dared him not to like them.
He is not the first person I have converted to a biscuit lover, but if we’re being real here, most of this credit can go to my Grammy.
Grammy made “Cloud Biscuits”, light, airy, full of layers and always moist. Growing up they were always made with fish chowder, or if we were lucky, for breakfast. Hers was a different recipe than this, because hers was a different time. In the Great Depression butter was a serious luxury, so the cloud biscuits were always made with shortening, and just a tablespoon or so of the good stuff to give it flavour. But it was the texture that got me hooked.
Which is funny, because most people complain about the texture, they think dry, over cooked, bland. So here is THE way to make the perfect biscuit.
Let’s start out with a couple basics first
The way you get layers is by using big chunks of really cold butter. When that cold butter goes into the hot oven it produces steam, and if you have the right formations of butter you get perfect light fluffy biscuits.
You need to knead, but not too much. Flour has gluten in it, and gluten will make your biscuits tough. But you need to knead your dough in order to get in the layers. This means really feeling the dough, as you knead it when it starts to get tough, it’s time to stop.
Use good ingredients. If your going to add cheese to your biscuit, make it good aged cheese. There are only a few things in your biscuits, make sure they’re adding something.
Be creative! There are a million things you can do to a biscuit, don’t limit yourself and have fun with the possibilities!
(Adapted from the Tartine Bakery Cookbook)
4 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1tbsp Baking Powder
1tsp Baking Soda
11/2 tsp Salt
1/4 cup Sugar
1cup Unsalted Butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 3/4 cup Buttermilk
1 Egg Yolk
1tbsp Cream, milk, or buttermilk
1 1/2 cup Aged Cheddar, chopped
1 bunch Scallions
In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients.
Add in the butter and with your hands, or a pastry scraper, break the butter up into lima bean sized pieces, or about the size of your pinky finger nail.
Add in any flavourings, in these ones I used cheddar and scallions, but the world is your oyster on this one.
Carefully pour the buttermilk in and mix it with a spatula or spoon until it just begins to come together.
Push the dough down with the palms of your hands and then fold the dough in half. Continue doing this 4-6 times or until you just start to feel resistance.
Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 3/4 inch thick.
Cut the dough out into whatever shapes you like, traditionally savoury are round and sweet ones are cut into triangles.
Put them on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper and put them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
While the biscuits are chilling preheat your oven to 400F
Take the biscuits out of the freezer and brush the tops with your egg wash.
Put them in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350F
Don’t open the door for the first 12 minutes, afterwards you can open it and turn the pan so that it cooks evenly.
After about 20 minutes the tops should be nicely browned and you should be able to see a significant rise. Allow to cool before eating.