Monday, April 26, 2010

Buttermilk Biscuits

My wonderful group of girlfriends up in SF got me a gift card to Sur La Table for my birthday and specifically labeled it "cooking classes". I knew as soon as I saw a class on CHEESE, that it would be an excellent choice for said gift card spendage. We made Mozzarella, Ricotta, Queso Blanco, Crème Fraiche and... drum roll please: Homemade Butter!

I realize I am leading you off topic here, you're seeing the headline about biscuits or somesuch and thinking why is she going on about the cheese class?

For a couple of the cheeses, you need buttermilk. Have you seen the smallest size carton of buttermilk in the store? It's a quart. When you need 6 tablespoons of the stuff to make a batch of Crème Fraiche, you have to find something to do with the other 58 tablespoons.

So, I turned to my trusty copy of Baking Illustrated. This book is my BFF.

Page after page of the most useful baking advice you can ever hope to get. These guys tinker, test and experiment so we don't have to. The goal is to have a foolproof recipe that will work every time.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup (5oz) unbleached all purpose flour
1cup (4oz) plain cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
3/4 cup cold buttermilk or 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

(If you don't have cake flour on hand, use an extra cup of all-purpose flour and increase the buttermilk and yogurt by 2 tablespoons)

This is best done in a food processor, but I don't have one so I am doing it by hand.

Into the bowl go the first 6 ingredients:

Whisk it up to evenly distribute, or pulse with six 1-second pulses in food processor:

Cut in some very cold butter. Cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes. If you don't have a food processor, cut it into the flour with a pastry blender, or by using 2 knives. You can also grate frozen butter with a box grater. More on that later.

And... the buttermilk

Stir, but not too much! You don't want chewy biscuits. You're looking for a "soft, slightly sticky ball".

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Divide the ball of dough in half, divide each of the halves in half, and then each of those lumps into thirds. This should give you an even dozen.

Ball them up, put them on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes.

Please note: Even though one of the BEST parts about Baking Illustrated is the precise instructions they give along with detailed commentary on WHY you do it that way, sometimes it is a lot of info to take in. After cutting in my butter with 2 knives (I don't own a pastry blender, gasp!) and baking these bad boys, I definitely understood why I need to read the book more thoroughly.

It asks you to flip to another page in the back for methods of cutting the butter in if you don't have a food processor or pastry blender. Your best option is grating the frozen butter with a box grater. My lumps of butter were a bit on the big side, and they were melting out all over the place as you can sort of see in the pic below. The melted butter was pooling on the pan. Oops.

Even with the slight oversight, these biscuits turned out divine. They really do need to be eaten right out of the oven. They were warm and crumbly, moist inside with that sort of sharp soda-like saltiness. Yum-o. Top with a little butter and maybe some honey. I think I ate 4 of them before my husband got home.

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