Sunday, March 28, 2010

Buttermilk Biscuits

You know how there are just some recipes that even an experienced cook is scared to death of? Well, buttermilk biscuits shouldn't be one of them. Sure, they can be scary - they can turn out like hockey pucks, but if you follow my tips, that won't happen.

So, let's talk a little about these biscuits. Not how to eat them, of course, I'm sure you can come up with some ideas on your own. And, if you can't, they are great with raspberry jam - or even better for a breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs in them. Lets talk about some tips on how to make them.

One of the most important things you learn quickly about baking is for most, if not all, recipes, temperature is important. Not only what temperature to bake your tasty goods, but the temperature of the ingredients as you are making them. When you are making things like cookies and cakes, you will see that recipes call for room temperature things - room temperature butter, milk, and eggs. The reason is simple - the ingredients mix together much better at room temperature.

For recipes like pie crusts and buttermilk biscuits, you will see the recipe saying cold butter, and cold buttermilk. If you are used to baking cookies, this may seem odd to you. However, there is a simple reason for this - you really don't want your butter fully incorporated into your flour, and you want your flour to not develop too much gluten, which is what happens when you work your dough. You want it mixed in, but you do want little clumps of butter in your biscuits. It helps with the texture of the biscuit. Trust me on this.

The other thing you need to know about biscuit making is don't make the dough perfect. You want to work with the dough as you are mixing things together just enough. Working with your biscuits too much will make them tough. You want to mix the butter into the flour until just small pieces remain, and they are all evenly distributed through the flour.

If you are insecure about making biscuits, the best thing you can do is this: freeze your butter. Then, instead of cutting it into cubes, shred it on a grater - like cheese. It's easier to incorporate into the flour then. All you have to do is stir it around, and you are ready to go. Trust me, they aren't that difficult as long as you don't handle it much, and start with cold cold ingredients, you will be fine. Now, if I can only get over my gnocchi fear...

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour (I like unbleached)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold (frozen is preferred) butter, cut into small cubes, or grated
3/4 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450. In a mixing bowl, place the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir together. Add the butter, and mix the ingredients together until the butter is incorporated into the flour and no large pieces remain. While it may be difficult to see, your mixture should look something like mine. I use frozen butter, cut into cubes, and my hands to mix the ingredients together. One little trick I learned doing this is I slowly count to 40 in my head while I'm incorporating the butter. Once I am at 40, I stop.

Add the buttermilk, and stir until just combined. You want the dough to be in one piece, and not too sticky, but have all the flour in the bowl incorporated. If you need a little less or a little more buttermilk, feel free to add it. But, don't stir it too much. If this process takes more than 2 minutes, you are working your dough too much.

Turn out onto a floured surface. Pat into a small round, about 1/2 to 2/3" thick. Cut into rounds with a cookie cutter or a coffee mug, which is what I use - it's the perfect size, and I can always find one. You can gently pat the remaining dough back together to make another biscuit or two, so you don't waste any of that dough.

Place on a greased or sprayed cookie sheet so the biscuits are just touching. Brush with a little melted butter (and you can sprinkle with a little salt if you want) and bake 10-12 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let rest a minute or two (if you can wait that long), and eat warm.

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