Learning about food, photography, and writing. Sharing what I find.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Nice Biscuits

Part of the motivation for this blog was to help me overcome a lifelong fear of baking. I admit it; I'll take meat preparation any day over anything involving sifting. I find more freedom in a recipe that won't suddenly flop on me because my baking soda was stale or I didn't shake down and level off each portion of the 4.75 cups of flour.

So, to combat this impatience-induced frustration, I am working up to comfort with a rolling pin by starting with a recipe that meets two very important criteria:
  1. Relative simplicity in preparation (none of this rising yeast stuff or multi-day prep)
  2. My husband's happiness as I finally unveil a biscuit that tastes "right."
Since I started cooking for two, I have tried to get away with some of those prepackaged (pre-tubed) varieties, but he and I both found them to be a sad excuse for domestic comfort in the form of warm, buttered carbohydrates. Popping that cardboard tube is just not as satisfying as preparing something with my own hands of which he'll want "seconds."

With this motivation in mind, I set out to find the "perfect" biscuit recipe. Now, my idea of a perfect biscuit and your idea of a perfect biscuit may be very different indeed, but I knew exactly what I wanted:
  • Buttery, fluffy on the inside, easily pulled into two pieces, good for both breakfast and dinner, and, I'll say it again, easy to prepare.
My search took me through my father-in-law's The Complete Book of Breads from the 50s and several recipes in The Joy of Cooking. Sadly, none of these even remotely compared to what my Connecticut mind imagined being served on the real tables down in the real South. So, I decided to look to a trusted Southern chef, who also happens to be my husband's favorite cooking show host. Good old Alton Brown. It is here that I found the elusive Perfect Biscuit.

Below is the modified recipe that I will being using from this day forward, thanks to Alton Brown and a couple of practice batches:

The Perfect Biscuit
(This recipe is a modified version of the recipe found here: Alton's Biscuits (hehehe) )
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour (Sorry. I know this is not a "normal" item . . . but you'll keep it in your pantry once you've tried these biscuits!)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder (That's right! And this is definitely the secret to these delicious suckers)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (Alton almost always calls for more salt than I like, so this is scaled-down from his original amount)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening (omit and double the butter if you prefer or if you don't have shortening handy!)
  • 2/3 - 1 cup buttermilk, chilled (I know most people don't have this lying around, but I've heard you can use lowfat plain yogurt as a substitute . . . Also, the amount of buttermilk will depend on the absorbency of your flour, so aim low, incorporate slowly, and add if you have to.)
**For your first time, you can do this tiny batch, but once you've perfected it, you'll almost always at least double this recipe.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips (or a pastry-cutter to avoid melting shortening), rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together (I admit I never knew what this really meant, but I think it's when there are no dry ingredients left out of the clump of dough. Always aim on the low side of stirring to avoid tough biscuits). The dough will be very (very, very, very) sticky.

Plop dough onto (generously) floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 3 or 4 times. Press into a 1.5-inch thick round. The thicker the round, the higher the biscuit will rise! Cut out biscuits with whatever circular thing you have lying around. I've seen people use the rim of a wine glass or the top of a jar. If you are the proud owner of biscuit-cutters, then you probably already have a biscuit recipe you like, don't you? Be sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Re-form scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light or pretty as those from the first.)
Bake until biscuits are tall and golden on top. I won't give you a time because it varies, but check them around 10 minutes and keep your eye on them!

These are great for any mealtime. The leftovers will actually get eaten instead of fed to the birds. The best is making them with dinner to sop up gravy and then making egg sandwiches in the morning with the extra biscuits. Sorry if I'm ruining everyone's New Year's Resolutions...but ya gotta try 'em.


  1. does this now make you a biscuit girl?

  2. I can attest, these biscuits really are perfect.

  3. A TRUE biscuit girl! All others are posers. Another substitute for buttermilk is 1 Cup milk (the wholer the better) and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice or white vinegar

  4. A tasket, A tiskit,
    My daughter cooked a biscuit.
    She mixes flour, salt and butter
    to make her hubby's heart aflutter.
    And when the baking portion ends,
    She captures all on camera lens.

    2 arts combined for
    2 hearts (by God) intertwined!

    It only takes a bit of leaven,
    to create a little piece of heaven.

  5. They were just what I want a biscuit to be. I'm glad we were around for these!

  6. Abel's comment about biscuits: "Don't say that word."

  7. K, I wrote a nice, long, somewhat witty (if I do say so myself), and highly complementary response to your first blog post and cyberspace ate it because apparently I didn't set myself up properly when first I agreed to follow... so instead you get a slightly irritated and very brief "well done Sister"! I am so looking forward to these posts!

  8. See!!! Why is it only letting me post as Anonymous when I am signed in??? Hmm... User error, as usual, I'm sure... Oh wait, maybe I got it to go... Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3...! Is this thing on???