Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Buttermilk Biscuits

How can something so simple be so good? Maybe it's because two of the three ingredients are butter.

2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, cold

3/4 cup buttermilk, plus a few tablespoons more as needed

Biscuits are just another type of pasty, which means you will be following the general pattern of cutting fat into flour. For the cutting, you can use a pastry fork, a food processor, or even two knives if you are a real masochist. Either way, you want that butter cold, just out of the fridge. Another interesting method is to freeze your butter and then grate it into your flour with a coarse cheese grater.

Measure the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using your method of choice (pastry fork, food processor, knives, cheese grater + frozen butter). The goal is to keep everything chilly, so work fast so your butter doesn't have a chance to get warm and melty.

Gradually add the buttermilk, slowly folding together the dry and wet ingredients as you would muffins. The goal is to just blend everything until moistened, working the dough as little as possible. Additionally, your goal is to use just enough liquid to get the dough to stick together. Use too much and you will get a soggy mess. This is the most subjective part of any pasty recipe, so you may have to practice a bit. Even when the dough seems a little too dry, it often rolls out quite nicely.

Kneed the dough once or twice, form it into a ball, and place on a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rough rectangle about a 1/2 inch thick. Fold the dough in half and roll out it out again. Fold and roll one last time, but this time only roll to a thickness of 1 inch. All the folding isn't strictly necessary, but I've found it often gives a flakier biscuit with a better rise. At this point you are ready to cut out the biscuits.

The key to getting a good rise out of your biscuit is to get a clean cut. If you don't have a biscuit cutter, it might be tempting to use something like a water glass to cut out the biscuits. Unfortunately, the thick edge of the glass will crush the edge of the biscuit down, creating a sort of seal. I've found a better option is to use a sharp knife to cut out square biscuits. The knife gives a very clean cut and there is less waste than a round cut.

Before baking, you might brush a little bit of milk on the top of each biscuit to help with browning.

Bake the biscuits at 450ยบ for 10-12 minutes or until the tops turn golden brown. Purists will brush the top of the biscuits with melted butter when they come out of the oven. I am a purist.