Simple, slightly tangy, so-smooth-and-buttery-they’re-creamy biscuits. Every year for George’s family holiday celebration I’m on bread duty. It started a few years ago when I volunteered to make rolls for a Thanksgiving dinner. They turned out…okay. Everyone seemed to like them but I was feeling pretty “meh.” They were stiff and dense without much flavor. I was hoping for something lighter, fluffier, and just all around better. So I tried a different roll recipe the next year. Now I know people’s opinion on this vary—some people never test a recipe on a group. Some people think it’s a good idea because it’s a way to gather a bunch of opinions at once. I do it simply because I generally just don’t have time otherwise. So anyway. Back to the second recipe I tested. It was also lackluster. Stiff. Dense. Not much flavor. Overall, pretty “meh.”
This year I decided to try biscuits. In an old America’s Test Kitchen email blast was a recipe for sweet potato biscuits that I’ve been saving for a rainy day. Don’t those sound delightful and interesting? That’s exactly what I said to myself. “BOY, that sounds delightful and interesting!” (Okay, maybe not exactly.) I was stoked because I thought I found my next bread for holiday dinners. And this time, THIS TIME, I was actually going to test the recipe first. Amazing, right? Long story short, I made them and was disappointed. Wah, wah (sad trombones!). Like the other bread recipes, they were also lackluster. Am I missing something? Am I just not cut out to make bready things? I’m not okay with that.
Fine then. Be that way, biscuits. You want to play that game, then I’ll play. I searched for recipes that would deliver something wonderful and most definitely not “meh.” Most biscuit recipes are very similar—flour, sugar, butter, buttermilk, leavener, etc or some variation thereof. Would those turn out to be “meh?” I deeply feared this “meh” result and tested two different recipes to hopefully prevent this. I heard about Miss Kay’s Biscuits (yes, THAT Miss Kay from Duck Dynasty) while I was watching The Today Show or something (alright fine, it was actually while watching Extra with Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos), so I figured “Heck, she’s Southern. She’d know a good biscuit, right?” (#stereotype #butitstotallyprobablytrue) The second recipe is from The Pioneer Woman herself, Ree Drummond. It was just quirky enough to be what I was looking for. First of all, it calls for butter AND shortening AND buttermilk—all contributors to moist, fatty, flakey, fluffy, tenderness. Then, there’s that powdered milk. WHY THE POWDERED MILK? IS THAT WEIRD?? WHO HAS THAT SITTING AROUND THEIR PANTRY? This girl, that’s who. But I’ll get to that on another day. Anyway, it’s elements like that that I love seeing in recipes: a slight twist that you maybe don’t understand but you know contributes to a delicious result for some reason or another. In this case, the milk powder is all a part of bread-baking science. It will add to the tenderness as well as to the flavor. (For more technical information, check this out.)
To sum it up, Ree’s biscuits (yes, we’re on a first name basis) are slightly more involved, while Miss Kay’s biscuits are ridonkulously easy-peasy. Both recipes turned out to be delicious and worth the effort. Ree’s won overall for flavor and texture, but Miss Kay’s are nothing to sneeze at. If you’re pressed for time and only have 10 minutes to mix some dough, go for Miss Kay’s recipe. If you have 2o-30 minutes for making dough, then go for Ree’s. The recipe below will be my variation on Ree’s biscuits.
|To kick up the delicious factor, add cheese. It gets everyone “ooh”ing and “ahh”ing instantly. Even I, Mary Lynn the Official Cheese Disliker (I won’t say “hater” b/c I reserve that for vinegar and I do like some cheese) will add salty, nutty cheese to things once in awhile. I used two kinds of cheddar (sharp and Irish) but go ahead and use your favorites. However, don’t break the bank on this because it’s not worth it. As lovely as Gruyere is, I would probably choose to put the Gruyere directly in my mouth instead of in the biscuit mix if you know what I’m sayin’. The Irish cheddar was a major score on sale at the grocery store so if you want to buy a nicer cheese, keep your eyes peeled for Manager’s Special deals on items that are still perfectly good, but are being sold at fast sale. (Does that make sense?)|
|Instead of shortening, I used lard. I went all out and bought a big ol’ embarrassing tub of lard that will probably last me for years. It’s always been something that plagued the back of my mind as “Is that something I should be using?” The healthy answer is “hell no” but the delicious answer is “give it a whirl, sweetheart!” I obviously gave in to my delicious side rather than my healthy side.|
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup powdered milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup + 2 TBSP buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded Irish cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Prep your baking pans. I like using baking sheets (jelly roll pans) lined with Silpat mats to ensure even baking and biscuits that don’t stick. If you don’t have Silpats, you could line your baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed with nonstick spray. You could also opt for baking them in a buttery cast iron skillet.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients (that includes the powdered milk) in a medium bowl.
3. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter and lard into the dry mixture until thoroughly blended.
4. Add the buttermilk; fold until the mixture comes together. Warning: it will be very gloppy! Next, add in the beloved cheese! Fold it in thoroughly but gently.
5. Time to form the biscuits! You can do this multiple ways. The classic method is to turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use your hands to press the dough into a circle about 1-1 1/2″ thick. Then use a biscuit cutter/circle cutter/drinking glass to cut out the biscuit rounds. I prefer to make evenly sized dough balls (okay, really more like blobs) and line them up next to each other on the pan in a grid formation, close but not quite touching. They’ll spread out a bit and create squarey biscuits. I like doing it this way because I think it’s easier and less fussy. I feel like biscuits should be low fuss, because isn’t that part of their beauty?
6. After you’ve formed the biscuits, brush the tops with melted butter. Pop them in the oven and bake until golden brown. My oven takes about 18 minutes to bake them, but everyone’s oven is different. Check on them half way through, rotate the pan, and then keep an eye on them every few minutes to ensure that they don’t burn.
Et voila! That’s it! They’re very easy. They’re great in savory situations, and they’re great with jam (yes, even with the cheese!). If they’re not eaten fresh out of the oven, I am a FIRM believer in serving and eating them warm. Heat them in the oven or the microwave.
Now it’s your turn. Have you ever had anything you tried time after time to make but just couldn’t find the right solution? What did you do about it?