Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Getting the Hang of It

For my second (the first is here) celebration of simple, steady joy, I choose biscuits.

{Moment of rapturous silence}

I know that they're not health food; we certainly don't live on them.  But bless me this time, I've made some moving biscuits recently.  I think I'm really getting the hang of them.  No, I mean really getting it.  I can remember at least three separate occasions lately when I have said "These may be the best biscuits of my life!"

Please take that bit of bragging as the first grade variety.  I'm so habitually expectant of failure and so notoriously (to me) uneven, that consistent success thrills me.

Biscuits are, again, a simple thing to make.  But they are tricky.  Once you know the tricks, it's no big deal.  Allow me to share some of the ones I know.
  • Go all butter.  Shortening is easier but more deadly, and you can't beat the richness of butter.  Just keep it in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it, and all will be well.
  • Use a soft flour like White Lily if you can.  This trick is not absolutely necessary, but it helps with tenderness.
  • Use buttermilk.  The acidity aids the leavening.  I discovered a couple of weeks ago that you can also use whey leftover from cheese making in place of the buttermilk.  It works fabulously.  (Yes, I've been holding back some of my kitchen deeds.  I'll try to catch up one day.)
  • Include a tablespoon of sugar to balance the bitterness of the baking powder.
  • Leave some of the butter in pieces at least the size of peas.  Their melting creates  steam, which makes more layers.
  • Cut straight down with your cutter.  Twisting will prevent your biscuits from popping impressively straight up. 
  • If you really want to pump up the pouf, pat out the dough into a rectangle, fold it in thirds, and repeat that process another couple of times.  You're now starting to act as if you're making super-flaky puff pastry, and your biscuits will act a bit like it, too.
Another wonderful thing to know about biscuits is that they aren't just for southern down home breakfasts. Your scratch biscuits will put those little yellow cakes from the supermarket to sniveling shame as a base for strawberry short cake made in the original--I mean colonial original--style.

The slight savoriness and buttery richness of the biscuit combined with sugar softened berries and lightly sweetened whipped cream are quite the treat.  Add blueberries, and it's the perfect dessert for the holiday at hand--historical and delicious.

Makes 7-8

2 cups White Lily or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.

Cut in the cold butter with your fingers, a pastry blender, or even two knives.  Stop when there are still some butter pieces the size of peas.

Stir in the buttermilk only until moistened.  Turn out onto a floured counter and pat out into a 3/4 inch high rectangle.  If you want impressive rise and layers, fold your rectangle in thirds, envelope style.  Repeat the patting out and folding two more times.

Cut biscuits out using a 2 1/2 inch round biscuit cutter, re-rolling and cutting the scraps.  Or you may cut the final rectangle into even squares if you're feeling particularly...efficient.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until tops and bottoms are golden brown.  Serve warm, or cool and use for dessert!

No comments: