Monday, January 21, 2013

Biscuits: Reloaded

Mission Biscuits: Playtime is Over
Pastry blender and cast iron skillet
are necessary for success
Over a year ago, I had the brilliant idea that I would try my hand at making biscuits and serving them at Thanksgiving for a family that is well versed in the ways of the South. The first trial, I thought went well. The biscuits tasted like biscuits... at least to this New England vixen. The verdict from the Bigger Half? "These are too dense to be Southern biscuits." I was crushed. I put away the flour and resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to make a respectable biscuit.
Butter worked into dry ingredients
with pastry blender
Good intentions and fine ideas and worthwhile food ventures with me gnaw and poke until I surrender  to the need to again bust out the rolling pin, even after suffering ego set backs. I'm not giving up on the biscuits, and today I think we made some headway. 
Cutting out the biscuits
I used the same recipe that initially inspired me back in 2011. But there were three key differences:
Into the oven
First, last time I used a regular run of the mill frying pan to house my biscuits as they ventured into the oven. This time, I'm going in with the real deal, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Second, last time I broke apart the butter into the flour with a couple of forks. This time, I went in with a pastry blender, specially designed to properly break apart the butter into pea-sized pieces without over working the butter and flour. Third, and this is purely an accident, this time when looking in the fridge, I didn't have any half and half or buttermilk. I did, however, have heavy cream and whole milk. So I split the ingredient of 3/4 of a cup of buttermilk or half and half into 1/2 cup of milk and a 1/4 cup of heavy cream. I'm not sure how close the fat content actually comes to what the recipe recommends with half and half or buttermilk, but the result was pretty darn good.
Golden brown biscuits
So, all the ingredients worked together with the pastry blender, the dough pounded, and the biscuits cut, into the cast iron skillet and into a 450 degree oven, we waited eagerly for 15 minutes. When they emerged, they were notably puffier than my previous attempt. The tops had darkened into that classic Norman Rockwell golden brown. On pulling them apart, the insides were light and airy, all that butter having dissipated into the bready centers of each biscuit, leaving delightful teeny, tiny air pockets just big enough to absorb an additional smear of butter and a dab of local honey. These were steamy, fluffy, delightful, and buttery biscuits with a delicate outer crunch and just a touch of love. I may not be from the South, but I can definitely appreciate a good biscuit, and if there's anyone who's a little home sick, I'll have a batch of biscuits ready for you.

A step in the right direction,
biscuits with butter and honey

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (1 stick)
1/2 cup of whole milk
1/4 cup of heavy cream

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