Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dreaming of Biscuits

Last week I dreamt of biscuits. Lying in bed in that twilight zone just before sleep, I found myself imagining stacks of the fluffy, flaky rounds of baked dough I often make on weekend mornings and eat with honey and scrambled eggs. I wanted to get out of bed and make them immediately, but found myself, with sleep quickly taking over my body, promising instead to make them in the morning. As it turned out, I didn't make any biscuits that morning, but that evening during class I received an email from my cousin with a link to Dorie Greenspan's blog, and what do you know, but Dorie is featuring...biscuits! Weird. Since then, I've been making biscuits like crazy. They're a great snack and a good use of the leftover milk and cream that I had frozen in a rush out of town one weekend to keep them from spoiling. I made heavy cream biscuits (without fat) and milk biscuits with Crisco as an after-dinner snack. For Mother's Day this past weekend, I baked large, fluffy buttermilk biscuits and we ate them honey, butter, jam, and scrambled eggs.

Biscuit Recipes
The nice thing about biscuits is the versatility of the recipes. If you don't have butter or Crisco, you can just use heavy cream. If you don't have heavy cream, you can use milk and Crisco. If you want buttermilk biscuits and don't have buttermilk, you can use sour milk (just add 1 T of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let sit in a warm place for 5-10 minutes). You can also use "Buttermilk Blend," which is a powdered buttermilk you can buy in the grocery store that keeps very well in the pantry. Although I almost always use white flour, you can easily replace some of the white flour with whole wheat flour, or with whole wheat pastry flour.

For all biscuit recipes, you will follow these directions:

1. Mix together the dry ingredients.
2. Use a pastry blender or a fork to cut in the shortening, if the recipe calls for shortening. If not, skip this step.
3. Add the liquid (milk or cream) and mix lightly.
4. Turn out on floured surface and knead 8-10 times. Pat dough into a 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick round.
5. Use a round biscuit cutter or glass to cut biscuits.
6. Place next to each other on metal baking sheet or baking pan (no need to grease) and bake until tops are lightly golden. (Making the biscuits touch in the pan helps them to bake upwards rather than outwards. They become light and fluffy this way.)
7. Serve with your favorite toppings: honey, molasses, butter, jam, whipped cream and strawberries (for strawberry shortcake), etc. The biscuits are best eaten hot, straight from the oven.
*See each individual recipe for baking temperature and times.

Joy of Cooking Biscuits
These are the biscuits I grew up making with my grandmother. Along with sour milk pancakes, apple crisp, and Fannie Farmer cottage pudding cup cakes, these biscuits are one of the first things I learned to make. They appear, in my 1975 edition, as "Rolled Biscuits". You can use this recipe to make "Fluffy Biscuits or Shortcake Dough," also from the Joy of Cooking. It probably goes without saying that you can use these biscuits to make strawberry shortcake, a delightful spring and summer dessert.

1 3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
4 to 6 T chilled butter or shortening or a combo of both (we used Crisco)
3/4 c milk

For shortcake:
Add to the dry ingredients 1 T sugar and another 1/2 tsp salt. You can use cream instead of milk for a richer dough.

Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes

Dorie Greenspan's "Sweet Cream Biscuits"

This recipe appears on p. 23 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From my Home to Yours. She has several recipes, including the buttermilk one she discusses on her blog, but I chose this one because I had heavy cream I wanted to use up. These are heavy and satisfying, but will not rise as much as biscuits with shortening will. If you want flakier biscuits, make the Fannie Farmer ones below.

2 c flour
1 T baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/4 c heavy cream

Bake at 425 degrees for 14-18 minutes.

Dorie Greenspan's Buttermilk Biscuits

These are the biscuits that appear on Dorie Greenspan's blog (she links to the Parade Magazine site) and also in her book, Baking From my Home to Yours. I haven't tried making these, but I'm sure they are delicious.

Best Biscuits (From the Fannie Farmer cookbook)

A couple of years ago when I called my grandmother for the biscuit recipe we used to make, this is the one she gave me. Although we used to make the Joy of Cooking ones, she had since started making these and found them to be much better. I agree, and have started making these exclusively. They are tall, flaky, delicious, slightly sweet, and the addition of cream of tartar makes them perfect. This is the recipe I would start with, because you are sure to get great results.

2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 T sugar
1/2 c shortening (I use no trans-fat Crisco)
2/3 c milk

*For Buttermilk Biscuits: Use 2/3 cup of buttermilk, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and only 2 tsp of baking powder.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes (15-17 minutes is usually perfect, depending on your oven and how large the biscuits are).


The baked biscuits, waiting to be devoured!

Biscuits in the pan ready to be baked.

The cut-out biscuits ready to be put into the pan for baking.

The round of dough ready to be cut into biscuits.

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