Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kitchen Bitchin': Poppin' Fresh Must Die

There are a few things that are way too easy to make at home. Oatmeal, for one. And popcorn. But you know what? Biscuits, that's what. Biscuits are easy. Crazy easy. Like so easy your grandma could do it. Did you know that canned biscuits have been directly correlated to grandmother grave-rolling? Scientific fact.
So there are a few tricks to biscuits, not going to lie. Cold everything, for one. Ice-cold bowls, ice-cold fat (two kinds, mind you), ice-cold flour, cold-enough buttermilk. And don't over-handle the stuff (we'll talk about warm hands and gluten development later).
Um, that's it. Don't worry about the stupid rules you hear on Food Network. Thumb prints in biscuits? No. Don't do it, that's stupid. Also, why would you ever buy a biscuit cutter? Use an overturned mason jar; it's what your grandma did, and hers turned out all right, didn't they?
Also, full disclosure, this is Alton Brown's recipe. I use it because it's good, smart, and basic. Just buttermilk, butter, lard (or shortening), salt, flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

  • 2 cups flour (all-purpose King Arthur is great. White Lilly is great, too.)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (cold-cold, as my grandma says)
  • 2 tablespoons shortening or lard (cold-cold, too)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

1. Measure out flour into a metal bowl. Put it in the freezer.
Geek-out moment: Low-protein flours (like southern flours, cake flours, and good AP flour brands) are crucial for light, tender biscuits. Those high-protein flours (bread flour) are great and all for gluten development (yeast bread's best friend), but generally don't play nice with quick breads (the chemically leavened stuff) . This is because the chemical leaveners (baking powder/soda) don't have the staying power to manhandle gluten sheets like yeast does, so you'll end up with tough, flat nastiness. Tough, flat, nastiness is not tasty.
2. Measure out your fats and dice up the butter to tiny little cubes (do it quickly). Then put them in the freezer as well.
Another geek-out moment: Cold fat is your friend, and one of the biggest tricks to a great biscuit. Why? Well, I'll tell you why. When we heat up the dough in the oven, a bunch of things start happening. First off, the cold fat that's scattered throughout the dough in little pocket-y chunks starts a-melting. At the same time, the chemical leaveners start doing their thing and making that wonderful CO2 that gives us everything we love in baked goods (texture, crumb, fluffiness, rise). As the fat melts, the CO2 seizes its opportunity to shine, takes its place w/in the doughy matrix and lifts everything. If we put the dough in with the fat all pre-melt-y, then the CO2 has no pocket-y chunks to replace and instead finds itself largely outside of our biscuits. What a waste.
Everything nice and cold? Good. Let's get moving. And fast.
3. Mix the tiny, cold fats in the cold flour in the cold metal bowl. See a theme? Rub it together with your fingers until it starts to look like crumbs. Fast-fast, now. Okay, stop. Make a well in the middle. Pour in your chilly buttermilk. Mix all that together, too.
Heavily flour your work surface. Don't be skimpy or you'll regret it.
4. Pour out the dough and flour it, too. Fold in half, gently press out (be nice, lest we be visited by the Gluten Monster), and repeat. Quickly. And 5 or 6 times more. You know what we're doing here? Creating layers, bitch! It's a beautiful thing.
5. Press out your dough to a round about 1 inch thick. Would your grandma really care how thick it is? No, she wouldn't, because it's just a biscuit. Just eyeball it.
6. Take your mason jar and start cutting out biscuits. Stack any excess, roll out, and repeat. The batch from the first go-round will be the tastiest, so mark those for yourself.
7. Arrange 'em so they're touching on the baking sheet. Pop that shit in the oven. Now wait 15 or 20 minutes until they're golden brown and blah blah blah.
See? I knew you could do it. Took you all of, what, 40 minutes…max? Better than the stuff from that exploding package, too.
Next up on my shit list? Instant oatmeal.


flynn said...

How do you feel about vinegar+milk or plain yogurt+milk = buttermilk-in-a-pinch? I'm TOTALLY bringing these for brunch tomorrow.

I smush a banana into my pot of oatmeal and don't need any sugars after that (and you know the lady isn't afraid of sugar, shug!) Cinnamony, nutmegy and topped with plain yogurt and fresh fruit with a banana cooked in.

theflyingnun said...

Hey Flynn!

I'm absolutely against vinegar in my biscuits (too, well, vinegar-y). I could be convinced of a lemon substitute, but I feel like you're missing some magic there by breaking down buttermilk into its main purposes (low PH for leavening and creamy liquid). In a real pinch, though, I've been known to do the lemon-milk thing, I must admit.

Never heard of the yogurt+milk thing, but I read up on it and it seems to get good results (and I would imagine the consistency to be closer to proper buttermilk). Cooks Illustrated likes the 3 parts whole-milk yogurt to 1 part milk ratio, so I may have to try it.

As for oatmeal, you've got absolutely the right idea, IMHO. Sounds like I've some consulting to do before I write that post!

flynn said...

At what temp should the oven be?