Homemade Biscuits!!! Part 1: The Cream Biscuit

Monday, January 7, 2013

Biscuits are one of the simple but perfect foods. Warm, buttery, flaky, they are comforting and nostalgic at the same time. Even if you didn't grow up with fresh biscuits, even if you grew up with canned biscuits or with a cuisine not involving biscuits in any form, you will still love The Biscuit. I know I do. 

For one, it's versatile. It can be served piping hot or room temperature. Savory or sweet, by itself or as part of a dish, on top of this or to the side of that or filled with this, there are many, many things one can do with The Biscuit. However, as is truth with many "simple" foods, it's also easy to serve really, really crappy biscuits. 

There are two main kinds of biscuits in my opinion: cream biscuits and buttermilk biscuits. Both have the same shape, but different textures and a subtle difference in flavor. Using butter and cream creates a more flaky, buttery texture while buttermilk gives a slightly spongier texture and subtle tanginess. Both are outstanding and can be used with wide variety for various dishes both sweet and savory. Sadly, despite this perfect food, as a society we've become accustomed to the ease of canned biscuits. Guilty -- I've been using them for years, fearful of falling short on the baking spectrum. A couple of months ago around Thanksgiving I finally got the balls to make my own biscuits and you know what? It wasn't entirely that difficult at all. So easy and cheap to make, in fact, I knock these suckers out now like an assembly line. And you can to! Just follow my tips and directions for a perfect golden biscuit! 

First up, is the Cream Biscuit. Light and flaky, the distinguishing factor of the cream biscuit is it's buttery flavor and flaky texture. Many recipes will actually call for lard. That's not my favorite because (a) it's greasy and (b) it simply doesn't have that special butter flavor that makes a biscuit so special in my opinion. Use a good butter for this -- unsalted -- and keep it nice and cold! It's important here to knead properly to create those layers, and using cold butter (not frozen, not room temperature, but cold) to get that perfect texture. By keep the butter in larger pea-sized pieces, once introduced to the hot oven those pieces of butter will melt into the rest of the biscuit as it cooks, providing that flaky texture you want. If you make the butter too small, it'll taste fine but won't get that flaky texture you're looking for. So pay attention when cutting that butter into the flour!

This dough can be made well in advance, well wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the fridge until you are ready to roll and bake. These are perfect as a side dish for hearty stews, tender braises of meats, BBQ, or just plain out of the oven with a good slather of your favorite berry preserve! They are super easy to make, and I promise once you make them once you'll never go back to canned again! This recipe makes 8-10 medium sized biscuits. 

Cream Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour (recommend: King Arthur brand)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp granulated white sugar
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
1 cup cold cream

Take the flour and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Add the baking powder, salt, and sugar and pulse a couple of times to mix in. Add the cold butter and pulse a few times to "cut the butter" into the flour. This means incorporating the butter into the dry ingredients, and creating small balls of butter the size of large peas covered in the flour mixture. It's very important not to overly process at this point, or else you'll make the butter too small and the biscuit won't retain that flaky texture talked about above. You want the little balls of butter to be the size of larger peas. Now, with the machine running, add the cream through the feed tube and process until the dough just comes together. Similarly, don't overly process the dough or else it'll become too gummy; you want to mix everything until all the ingredients just come together into a mass, and you can take it all out and form it into a ball easily and it'll stick together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (a plastic cutting board with flour works great, or wooden board or marble board is ideal) and begin to kneed the dough.

Flour a rolling pin and sprinkle some flour on top of the dough. Roll out the dough into a flat rectangular shape. Then kneed it: take the corner at 2:00 pull it up and over on top of the rest of the dough. Turn the dough disk 1/4 to the right, take the next section at 2:00 and repeat. Keep doing this over and over again, pull and turning, pulling turning about 20 times. You can use the rolling pin to help you roll it back out into a large enough piece to work with every 5 or 6 times if needed. This process of kneading is creating the flaky layers you want in this biscuit. So it's an important step -- don't skip it!

Once you've kneaded the dough, roll the entire thing out into one large rectangular piece about 1 inch thick. Then take your biscuit cutter (I use a medium-sized cutter for the biscuits pictures, but you can go ahead and use whatever shape or size you'd like) and cut the biscuits out of the dough. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Take the rest of the dough, quickly reform it, kneed it a couple of times to get it into shape, roll it out to 1 inch again and use the biscuit cutter again for more biscuits.

Let biscuits stand at room temperature while the oven preheats.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush tops of biscuits with a little bit of cream (this will help them get a nice golden color on top) and bake in oven until edges begin to get golden, about 13-15 minutes. Remove and serve.

Make Ahead Tip:
If you're planning to make these ahead of time, go ahead and make your dough then form it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until ready to form your biscuits. You can make this dough even 2 days in advance.

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