Thursday, November 12, 2009

Biscuits...and more biscuits

There's almost nothing I love more than hot, fresh, home-made bread, straight out of the oven. Challah. Whole wheat. A crispy-crusted French loaf.

But fresh-baked bread and a 9-5ish job? Not even a bread machine can make those sorts of yeasty dreams come true on a regular basis.

Which is why I've become the ultimate biscuit fan. OK, sure. Technically? No yeast. But they're warm and flour-y, they make the house smell good, and my kids squeal with delight when they're on the menu. Plus? I can make them from scratch and still have them on the table in under half an hour.

Can you say the same thing, bread? I didn't think so.

Score one for the previously guilt-ridden working mom.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought this little ode to the biscuit would be especially appropriate. Because really, who has time to knead dough and let it rise when you've got a turkey to brine? (What? You don't brine? I'm a total convert, thanks to Alton Brown and the Food Network. Also, I'm a total masochist. But that's a subject for my other blog.)

And, just to raise the ante a bit, I'm going to throw two different biscuit recipes your way. The first is one I just tried for the first time last week, after seeing it in the weekly recipe-laden email the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen folks sent to me. (By the way. Cook's Illustrated = best cooking magazine ever. Hands down. Yes, I do have opinions, thank you very much. And since you asked, go for the online subscription. The archives are incredible.) The second is from my go-to cookbook, The Joy of Cooking. And having made them both within a couple of days of one another, I have to tell you...they're both scrumptious. Try one, try both. There's no such thing as too many biscuits.

Cream Biscuits (adapted from America's Test Kitchen video recipe)

2 cups flour (no reason--ever, that I can think of--to get bleached flour, folks; go for the all-purpose unbleached)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
approximately 1-1/4 cups heavy cream

The ATK folks like these biscuits because they're really easy to throw together, what with not having any butter to cut in and worry about lying around in too-big chunks. Personally, I don't think there's such a thing as a too-big chunk of butter, but, you know, different strokes and all that. What *I* liked about this recipe is how truly creamy and rich and yet flaky the biscuits were.

Here's how to get them that way:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add heavy cream a little at a time, until the mixture is fully wet.

3. Take the dough out of the bowl, and knead it for 20 to 30 seconds on a floured surface. Unlike most biscuits, you can actually treat this dough pretty roughly; I probably kneaded for more like a minute, and it was just fine.

4. The ATK folks then suggest putting the dough into an 8-inch cake pan, spreading it out, turning the pan upside down and dumping it on the countertop, then cutting out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter. Me? I hate washing more dishes than I need to, so I just smoothed it out on the same board where I'd kneaded it and cut it with a round cookie cutter.

5. Place on baking sheet with parchment paper (I'll second Kristen's insistence that it's the only way to go when you're baking), and bake for 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. Serve warm. With real butter. (Or whatever you want. I just love real butter.)

Quick Drop Biscuits (from The Joy of Cooking)

These are based on a more 'conventional' basic rolled biscuit recipe in the book, but I've never been one to care about my biscuits looking all smooth and uniform, and drop biscuits get into the oven and thus into my belly more quickly than do those that require rolling out and cutting. No contest!

2 cups all-purpose flour (another plug for unbleached)
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into smallish pieces
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 45o degrees.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, then add the butter, cutting it with knives or a pastry blender until the butter is in pea-sized (or smaller) flour-coated pieces. You don't want the butter to melt or get pasty.

3. Add all the milk at once, mixing it into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until everything is moist and sticky, but not smooth.

4. Drop golf-ball-sized teaspoons of the batter onto a baking sheet lined (yes, another plug) with parchment, spacing the biscuits an inch or more apart.

5. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the bottoms and the spiky peaks on top are nice and golden brown. Serve warm and, need I say? With butter. Mmmmmmmmmm.

So now I'm wondering...Do any of you have a strong preference when it comes to these sorts of things? Like, do some of you really hate the idea of a biscuit whose top is spiky rather than smooth? Are any of you turning up your nose at the idea of a biscuit made without butter? Do biscuits turn you off entirely, being heavier than their various yeasty cousins? I'd love to hear what you think.


  1. I think my family would bow down in worship if I made either of these recipes. It just never occurred to me to make biscuits from scratch, what with all the pop-n-fresh dough out there. I'm curious, how many biscuits do you get from each recipe?

  2. More than the pop-n-fresh (about a dozen), and for a lot less money. (The only ingredient I had to buy to make either of these was heavy cream for the cream biscuits. Otherwise, it's all pennies' worth of stuff already in my fridge or pantry.) Plus, no icky chemical preservatives or unpronouncable ingredients added!

  3. I love the bumpy bumps that are crispy! AND good butter to add to them while warm. YUMMMMMMMM!

    The ones in the tubes are much too salty for my taste.

  4. Ha, ha, I found this blog by typing in bumpy top biscuits. I also bake my biscuits from scratch and use a recipe similar to your second one, with the butter. I usually knead my dough and flatten it so I can cut the biscuits (rather than dropping dough with a spoon). This recipe usually makes 12-14 biscuits, depending on the size.

  5. I think I wouldn't mind doing a guest post. It might be awhile, though, because I'm right at the end of teaching my university classes. But after that I might be able to do one. Let me know if you want me to.