Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Biscuits! Biscuits! Biscuits!

Once a month, my bread baking column on Serious Eats turns into Knead the Book where I bake five recipes from a bread-related book. This post includes the book summary and one of the recipes.

Biscuits are kind of like magical bread. Once you’ve figured out the method, you can whip together a batch of biscuits in no time at all. And they bake quickly. You can pop them in the oven when you take your roast out, and they’ll be done by the time the meat is done resting.

I have dozens of cookbooks that include biscuit recipes. All the general cookbooks have at least one biscuit recipe. So why do you need Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart?

You need this book if you don’t want the same basic biscuit recipe over and over again, that’s why. All of those general purpose books have basic biscuits. This book is stuffed with recipes with different methods and different ingredients that make a huge variety of biscuits and biscuit-like baked goods.

There are also recipes for using leftover biscuits, and some toppings, like butters, gravies, and jams. But seriously, I could have been perfectly happy playing in the “Traditional Biscuits” chapter from start to finish. But I did venture into other chapters – because those looked just as enticing.

One thing I always look for in baking books is the conversion from cups to weight. This book explains that southern flour should weigh 4 ounces per cup if it’s measured as directed.

This book cleverly accounts for the fact that people will be using different types of flour and will measure their flour differently. Most recipes suggest holding back on a little bit of both flour and liquid during the mixing, and adding whichever one is required. It’s genius.

I liked all of the recipes I tried from this book. Two of them didn’t rise as much as I hoped, but that’s probably because the ambient temperature in my kitchen that day was fluctuating between unbearably hot and surface-of-the-sun. The butter didn’t have a chance.

Busty Yogurt Biscuits

The first recipe I tried from Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart was the Busty Yogurt Biscuits. They are similar to cream biscuits in that they don't have bits of butter that make them flaky, but they rise high and taste great.

Working with yogurt is a little tricky because there's such a difference in consistency, but this book explained that pretty well, and suggested that if the yogurt is thick, you can add milk or buttermilk to thin it out. Since I was working with a Greek yogurt, I thinned it right away to mimic a standard yogurt, and the recipe worked perfectly.

What Worked:
This type of recipe is incredibly easy - just three ingredients, if you use a self-rising flour.

What Didn't: These biscuits took a couple extra minutes to brown, but that wasn't a big deal.

Suggested Tweaks:  These biscuits would be nice for breakfast sandwiches, but they were just a little bit small for that. I might use a larger cutter next time.

Busty Yogurt Biscuits
From Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart
Used with permission; all rights reserved.

2 1/4 cups commercial or homemade self-rising flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, divided
Butter, softened or melted, for finishing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, select a 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or oven-proof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.

Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of flour and the salt in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.

Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 2/3 cup of yogurt into the hollow, reserving the 1/3 cup yogurt, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the yogurt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 tablespoons of reserved yogurt, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat dough out into a 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a 1/2-inch thick round for a normal biscuit, 3/4-inch thick for a tall biscuit, and 1-inch-thick for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter onto the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting a the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.

Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove them from the oven and lightly brush the tops with butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.