The Biscuit Method

Lovely, high-risen biscuits!

Lovely, high-risen biscuits!

Sorry about that downer of a Halloween post.  Let’s get back to pastry, shall we?  Ah, yes…the biscuit method.  The biscuit method is a method for making quick breads such as scones and, well, biscuits.  That’s American biscuits, not cookie-biscuits, if you’re visiting from across the Big Blue Ocean.

The biscuit method is one of the only mixing methods that does not require you to have all of your ingredients at room temperature.  Your fats and liquids should be cold for the biscuit method.  The colder, the better.  Why?  Well, the whole point of the biscuit method is to keep discrete little pieces of fat dispersed throughout your dough.  That way, when they melt in the oven, the steam the little pieces creates assists in with the rise.  Also, you get all of these wee little buttery pockets.  I love me some biscuits.

So, here’s how it goes.  I’m not going to give a recipe–there are a billion recipes out there.  I will give a method though.

  1. Mix all your dry ingredients together with a whisk:  flour, baking powder and/or baking soda, salt, sugar, dry spices, etc.
  2. Cut your very cold fat into about 1/2 inch chunks (if you’re using shortening, or part shortening, put that stuff in the freezer.  I vote all butter, personally, for flavor and for no trans fats, but do what you want).
  3. Toss the butter/shortening with the dry ingredients.
  4. Using your fingers, break up the butter/shortening, rubbing it into the flour.  When you’re done, the pieces should be anywhere from the size of grits to the size of peas.  Nothing too much bigger than a pea.  If your hands are warm, throw everybody into the fridge to firm up.
  5. Pour in your liquid (milk/cream/half and half/buttermilk–whatever the recipe calls for).  Toss together with the dry.  Don’t mix viciously.
  6. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a square about 1/2″ thick.
  7. Cut into squares (no waste) or circles.  (You can re-roll the scraps, but those biscuits will be tougher.  I vote squares).
  8. Brush with cream/butter/egg wash.  Bake at about 400 degrees, F, until risen and golden brown and lovely.

I will now take your questions.  Yes?  You in the back.  “Why can’t I mix viciously.  I need to get out my aggression.”

Me:  If you need to take out your aggression on something, make some bread or take a kick boxing class.  You want to handle your dough gently once the liquid is in there.  Biscuits are supposed to be tender, and a bunch of mixing will just activate the gluten in the flour and you’ll end up with chewy biscuits.

Yes, sir.  You there, in the brown sweater.  “Can I use my stand mixer or food processor?”

Me:  I would stay away from the food processor because it can generate a bunch of heat, and you don’t want your butter to melt.  You can use a mixer as long as you use the paddle attachment and stop and check the consistency and the size of your butter pieces every 30 seconds or so.  You don’t want to end up with paste.  Once you get the liquid in there, I would take the bowl off the mixer and fold the liquid in with a spatula.  You don’t want to develop that gluten.”

That’s enough for today.  Thank you all for coming.  On your way out, check out this and this.


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