Biscuits have a multitude of savory and sweet preparations. Two of my favorites are strawberry shortcakes and biscuits and gravy. You can make a double, or triple batch of biscuits in the morning, and use some for B&G at breakfast, then have half of a dessert done for the evening. They also make great breakfast sandwiches or are fantastic on their own with butter and jelly.
Moisture and flour form gluten (the stuff that makes dough and bread sticky and stretchy, to oversimplify it), fat and water do not form gluten. In some recipes gluten is needed for structure; in a biscuit recipe, it is not.
Keeping the butter as cold as possible while in the dough before baking keeps the moisture at bay (U.S. butter is roughly 18% moisture, 80% fat and 2% milk solids — European butter is roughly 14% moisture, 84% fat and 2% milk solids.) The butter that gets mixed into the dough shortens the gluten strands in the biscuit, thus creating flaky dough. Shortening, on the other hand, is 100% fat. Using shortening shortens the gluten strands at an even higher level.
One of the differences between shortening vs. butter is that shortening is much harder to get to stay in pieces, so it creates more of a crumbly biscuit. Both butter and shortening can make a superb biscuit, but I prefer butter. The moisture along with the milk solids adds a flavor that shortening doesn’t have, but is it not as predictable. Freezing the butter can help make the mixing process more controllable. Freezing helps the butter hold its shape during mixing and keeps the little pockets throughout the dough. When the small amount of moisture is given a chance to turn to steam in the hot oven, it makes the biscuit rise. The pocket of fat melts, and creates a void, making a flaky biscuit.
The mixing of dry ingredients causes no problems, or gluten formation. The flour, sugar, baking powder and salt can be mixed anytime all day long and have no ill effect. Keep the water out and they are good. This can be done a day or a week beforehand. The butter and the buttermilk are a little more dangerous. Cutting the butter into pieces and freezing it will help keep the pieces solid while mixing in the bowl with the dry ingredients.
Once they’re added, mash them slightly, then mix in the buttermilk, just until the dough comes together. You can remove it from the bowl onto a counter lightly dusted with flour and knead a few times until you are able to form a long rectangle. Cut that rectangle in two, then stack it again. Stacking it will help create more layers and help the biscuits break apart after baking.
It seems odd, but cutting or not cutting the outside edges can have a large effect on how the biscuits rise. Not cutting them will leave the layers smushed together on the outside and they won’t rise as well. Cutting just a small amount off the outside layer allows the flakes of butter within the dough to have a clean break and rise more effectively.
(makes 4-6 biscuits)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for dusting the counter
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus a little for dusting biscuit top
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a little for dusting biscuit top
- 4 ounces unsalted butter
- 6 ounces buttermilk, plus a little extra for glazing biscuit tops
Cut butter and freeze (oil the pan or plate before freezing to help release butter pieces when ready, or place them on the butter wrapper) then prepare all your other items.
Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add in the frozen butter, lightly squash pieces and mix into the dry mixture (quickly because you want everything to come together with the butter still very cold). Add in ¾ of the buttermilk and mix into a shaggy mass. Add more buttermilk as needed, just until the mixture holds together, but is not overworked.
Empty contents of bowl onto a lightly floured area. Flatten out to about a 4” x 12” rectangle. Cut in half (two 4” x 6” rectangles), stack them and push together lightly. Cut all four sides of each biscuit. Transfer to a greased pan (or pan lined with parchment or a non-stick baking mat.) Drizzle a little buttermilk on each biscuit and spread with the back of a spoon, then dust lightly with a little sugar and a trace of salt. Bake in a preheated 400◦ convection oven (450◦ conventional oven) for 6 minutes, then rotate pan and bake approximately another 6 minutes. The biscuits should rise to about double in height. They should be a light brown in some areas, and layers and flakiness should show from the side.
(makes 4-6 servings)
- 8 ounces breakfast sausage
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with a spoon or whisk. Heat until fully cooked and until about 2 tablespoons of fat have rendered out (You may need to lower the heat to prevent over-browning). Add the flour to the fat and mix until it forms a paste or roux. Slowly whisk milk into the roux, and turn heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until gravy has formed. Make sure to stir every minute or two to prevent the bottom from scorching. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM
(makes 4-6 servings)
- 16 ounces fresh strawberries,8 ounces macerated and 8 ounces thinly sliced and reserved
- 3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
Mix the first 8 ounces of strawberries with sugar and salt in a container and smash with the bottom or spoon. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, up to a day. Save other fresh sliced berries until preparing the dish.
- 1 cup cream
- 3 to 4 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk the cream until soft peaks form (cream sticks to whisk, but peak falls when held up). Add powdered sugar and vanilla and whisk until hard peaks form (peak stays up when the whisk is held up.) Whipped cream will hold at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes or a few hours in the fridge.