Friday, March 8, 2013

my favorite buttermilk biscuits

my favorite buttermilk biscuits

I won’t lie: I generally feel — being a Jewish kid from suburban New Jersey — about the least qualified person on earth to talk about biscuits. My grandmother didn’t make biscuits. I am almost certainly the first person in my family to keep my fridge regularly stocked with buttermilk. And growing up, our breakfast breads were a rotation of Thomas’ English muffins, bagels and maybe corn/blueberry or bran muffins, so it’s not like I have a deep well of biscuit nostalgia to tap into when I decide, on a whim, that what our morning, slicked with heavy snow, really needs is freshly baked biscuits.

flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, soda, butter, buttermilk
butter into bits

Odds are, however you make your biscuits, you’re making them wrong. Either the flour isn’t right (all-purpose when it should be White Lily, cake flour or something equally delicate), the leavener is unacceptable (commercial baking powder instead of a homemade blend of baking soda and cream of tartar), you chose the wrong fat (shortening instead of lard, lard instead of shortening, butter instead of shortening or lard), you pulsed your fat into the flour instead of rubbed, you beat instead of rolled, you dropped instead of cut, you used a cookie cutter (gasp!) instead of a juice glass. I’m totally cool with this: I make my biscuits wrong, too.

buttermilk into dry ingredients

craggy dough, needs a knead or two
a doughy mass
cut straight down, no twists or turns

Even by my own standards. There’s a general formula I associate with most biscuit recipes, roughly 2 cups of flour to 5 tablespoons of fat and one cup of milk (or sometimes 2 1/4 cups to 6 tablespoons and 3/4 cup), but despite my every effort to love the results of this formula above all else, I failed, reverting to a random version I’ve been making from a diner in Colorado that I found in Bon Appetit in 2000, nearly as far from known biscuit country as one can roam. Its formula — with two leaveners, buttermilk instead of milk and a much higher proportion of butter — isn’t even close to the classic and it’s not even a little sorry.

i liked the remains

Because they are awesome. I mean, every single time I make them, I too am confused as to how I became someone who knew my way around a biscuit. It’s not in my bones, it’s not in my history (yet), it’s and so it must be the recipe, which is the best part: that means they can be yours this weekend too.

favorite buttermilk biscuits
with extra butter, because, of course
buttermilk biscuit, pat of butter, dollop of jam

Biscuits, previously: Cream Biscuits (the easiest biscuits in the world) and Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits. Lots of biscuits and scones in the archives as well.

One year ago: Potato Knish, Two Ways
Two years ago: The Best Baked Spinach
Three years ago: Warm Mushroom Salad with Hazelnuts and Coconut Milk Fudge
Four years ago: Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies and Pita Bread
Five years ago: Homemade Devil Dog, Ding-Dong or Hostess Cake, Sweet Potato Wedges, Big Crumb Coffee Cake and Alex’s Chicken and Mushroom Marsala
Six years ago: Red Split Lentils With Cabbage, My Favorite Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes and a Cucumber Scallion Raita

My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Dot’s Diner in Boulder via Bon Appetit

I shared these on the site way back in its youth, 2007, but I’d adapted them as chive biscuits and it was buried in a post without any photos of their deliciousness. They never got the spotlight they deserved.

These can be adapted in a lot of ways. You can use (unleavened) cake flour for a more delicate biscuit, add herbs or a little grated cheese for a different flavor profile, and the sugar can be dialed up or down (the original calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons, but I use as little as 2 teaspoons when I want a savory biscuit). You can make your own buttermilk (like so) or whisk together yogurt or sour cream and milk for a similar effect. They can be dropped from a spoon or cut into shapes.

The original recipe has a larger yield (12 standard), but for our weekend needs, but I’ve taken to scaling it to 3/4 of its original volume (shown below), which will yield 6 very large breakfast biscuits (think: egg sandwich, and then invite me over, please) or 9 standard ones, the kind you’d serve alongside other things (although they will totally, unapologetically hog the spotlight).

2 1/4 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 tablespoons (10 to 20 grams) sugar (to taste, see note above)
1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons (125 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk

Heat oven to 400 °F and cover baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large, wide bowl. Using fingertips or a pastry blender, work butter into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, Add buttermilk and stir until large, craggy clumps form. Reach hands into bowl and knead mixture briefly until it just holds together.

To form biscuit rounds: Transfer dough to floured counter and pat out until 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick (err on the thin side if uncertain, as the tall ones will literally rise and then tip over, like mine did the day I photographed these). Using a round cutter (2 inches for regular sized biscuits, 3 inches for the monstrous ones shown above), press straight down — twisting produces less layered sides — and transfer rounds to prepared sheet, spacing two inches apart.

To make drop biscuits: Drop 1/4-cup spoonfuls onto baking sheet, spacing two inches apart.

Both methods:Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly, then serve warm, with butter/jam/eggs/bacon/sausage and gravy or any combination thereof. Happy weekend!

Do ahead: Biscuits are best freshly baked. When I want to plan ahead, I make the biscuit dough and form the individual biscuits, then freeze them until needed. They can be baked directly from the freezer, will just need a couple more minutes baking time.


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