Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Biscuit Baking for Moderns

One can find great delight in the most simple of things. I think this is a fact that many of us realize as we move through life. The best things need not to be complicated, complex, multi-faceted or over the top. When I was a young boy, I recall my grandma and other "old" adults talk about food and refer to a dish someone had made as being "too rich." How in the world could anything every be too rich, I thought. The richer the better! The sweeter the better! The creamier the better! More is better, right? What a kid doesn't know about life is a lot.

Biscuits are one of those things that are, at least on the face of it, simple and straightforward. Done well, they are light yet sturdy enough to hold up to a big spread of sweet butter, honey, jams and preserves, thick pieces of smoked ham or cheese or anything else you want to put on them. Biscuits serve as a delivery system for wonderful things that need a little propping up. Yes, you can eat a good biscuit just on its own, but why would you when there are so many wonderful things around to keep it company.

So, when a colleague of mine at Wayne State University asked me to do up a good recipe for biscuits I was happy to oblige, because I love biscuits and now I had good reason to bake up a batch. I was also a little worried, because this wasn't just any request. It came from my friend Beaufort, who grew up in the south and I'm sure knows a thing or two about biscuits. What was I - this Yankee from Detroit - going to show anyone about making biscuits? Wanting to do my best for my respected colleague, I pulled out my recipe, turned on the oven, put my apron on, and got down to the business of making these biscuits. Beaufort, this one's for you!

2 cups all purpose flour (plus more for the board)
1 TBSP baking powder
1 TBSP sugar
1 tsp salt
3 TBSP cold unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
3 TBSP cold Crisco
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt) in a large bowl and whisk together until well mixed. Add butter and Crisco to flour mixture and using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut solids into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Do this as quickly as you can so that butter and Crisco remain cold. Add milk gradually and mix after each addition. Add just enough milk so the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl (see video). If the weather is hot and humid, you may not need all the milk. If it's cool, you may use it all or even a tablespoon more. You don't want the dough too wet, otherwise it will be difficult to work with.

Once the dough comes together in the bowl, remove it to a floured surface. Kneed the dough about 15 or 20 times - no more. You don't want to overwork it. Pat dough into circle that is about an inch in thickness. Using a two-inch biscuit cutter (or juice glass) that is dipped in flour, begin to cut your biscuits. Put your scraps of dough together and keep cutting. You should get six biscuits from this recipe. Put raw biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in 425 degree oven 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you want the tops to get a soft, golden brown (but not the sides). When done, transfer baked biscuits onto a cooling rack or better yet directly on to a plate and eat them while they are hot! They will keep for about a day in an airtight container, if you don't eat them all right out of the oven.

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