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The Biscuit, An exploration.

September 4, 2012 / By amy

The biscuit – a mainstay on brunch menus and well worn breakfast tables nationwide.  For something so simple people sure have strong feelings about it. A Google search for “biscuit” leads you down a rabbit hole of recipes from folks claiming their recipe (or their Aunt/Grandmother/Me-mas recipes’ rather) is simply the best you’ll ever try.  Their ingredient list yields the flakiest, the lightest, and the butter-y-ist baked concoction.  They’ll tell you what brand of flour is best, what type of fat to use, and how much to knead (or how little).  It’s pure insanity.

I had my work cut out for me: find the perfect biscuit.  Not the “best-biscuit-ever-never-to-be-outdone-or-made-better” variety like so many out there claim to be – just the best biscuit for me.  One that I’d be happy to make for those I love.  I devoted a couple of hours to the search and just before my head started spinning closed the laptop and headed into the kitchen.

I didn’t want to totally discount all the enthusiasts out there who clearly knew a thing or two about makin’ biscuits so I chose a number of recipes that peaked my interest.  I figured once I had them to try side by side surely “my” perfect biscuit would become apparent.  The contenders: classic buttermilk, duck fat & scallion and cream biscuits (the kind we make at Baked that I’ve become quite partial to).

Equipment: pastry cutter, biscuit cutter or glass approx. 3inches in diameter, rolling pin, extra flour for rolling, baking sheet trays with parchment paper

Buttermilk Biscuits

1 ¼ cup Cake Flour
¾ cup AP
1 ½ t baking powder
½ t salt
¼ cup (2 oz.) cold butter cut into small pieces
¾ cup buttermilk

Duck Fat & Scallion Biscuits

2 Cups AP Flour
1 T baking powder
½ t salt
4 oz. frozen duck fat (melts very quickly! Make sure it’s been frozen)
½ cup cut scallion
6 oz. buttermilk

Cream Biscuits

2 cups AP flour
1 T 1t baking powder
1 t salt
1 – 1 ½ cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare your baking sheets with parchment paper.

You begin the same way no matter what type of biscuit you’re making.  Join dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk well to combine.   If you are adding savory bits such as scallion or herbs add them in with the flour.

For the buttermilk and duck fat biscuits – place the very cold (Important!) cubed fat in with the flour and cut in using the pastry cutter until it is approximately the size of peas.At that point add the buttermilk and gently combine until it comes together.  Try not to work it too much or you will have tough biscuits!  Flour a clean dry surface well and place the dough atop.  Have flour at the ready and use it as needed so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands, the counter top or rolling pin.  Pat down the dough using your hands.  Roll it out using a rolling pin until it’s about 1 inch thick. Punch out rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass.  Place on a baking sheet (or large cake pan like I did!) fitted with parchment paper.Top the biscuits with egg wash (1 egg plus splash of cream or water) or melted butter and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

The cream biscuits are even easier – after you’ve whisked together all the dry ingredients slowly add the cream – stopping once you have dough that clings together but is not too wet.  Roll, cut and bake the same way as described above.

The breakdown: None of these biscuits were bad.  Not even close.  They were all soft, subtly salty, warm and comforting.  I could see a scenario in which I’d like to eat each biscuit respectively.I’d gladly enjoy a duck fat biscuit by its lonesome for lunch (or any other meal for that matter.)  The addition of scallion lent loads of flavor, as did the duck fat – round and mouth coating.  It was the lightest tasting of the three, which may come as a shock to those of you who think duck fat sounds heavy.  In reality duck fat is one of the lightest animal fats with a composition closer to olive oil than butter.  Learn something new every day don’t you?

The buttermilk biscuit was the flakiest and most reminiscent of the pull apart varieties sold in cardboard cans at your nearest grocery store.  It was screaming to be smothered with warm butter and honey.

And the cream biscuit – a little saltier than the others and sturdier, but don’t read that as tough – it was just as light and lovely as the others.  It would pair well with chili or a really decadent sausage gravy.

The take away: what I learn time and time again in the kitchen is that there’s more than one way to… cut a biscuit shall we say.  That’s the beauty of it all!  So many versions of the same basic dish all yield really fantastic results.But if I had to be tough and name only one biscuit I’d want to eat day in and day out it’d have to be the cream biscuit.  It’s pretty great.  Or maybe I’m just biased.

About The Baking Society

The National Baking Society is dedicated to preserving American baking standards,techniques, ingredients, ideas and recipes. In less extravagant ornate prose, The National Baking Society is a blog from the folks at Baked.

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