It’s true: Some foods have a near-global appeal. No matter where you’re from or what your food preferences are, they speak the universal language of delicious.
Oftentimes these culinary all-stars are rather simple, and shine not just because they taste good, but because they have other inherently likable characteristics as well, such as an agreeable texture and ease of handling. One such food that immediately comes to my mind is the biscuit.
These simple, puffy clouds of carbohydrate goodness have a seemingly magical quality about them. Through the centuries they have been found everywhere from the sacks of traveling peasants to gilded baskets atop linen tablecloths.
They can be savory or sweet, and only get better when teamed with condiments such as butter, honey or gravy. Biscuits are also special in that they can be had for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack; eaten as a side; or, when cut in half, used for a sandwich.
When I told a colleague that I’d be making some, he asked if I use Bisquick. My eyes immediately shot daggers.
Yes, just like pancakes, waffles, cupcakes and so many other quickly prepared foods, mixes abound for biscuits. Some are quite good, too. But it’s not much more difficult to whip up your own mixture, which can save you money and allow you to tailor the recipe exactly to your liking.
Biscuits can be made a couple of ways. Both involve a process of pairing flour and fat, then making a batter from the wet and dry ingredients. To make a restaurant-quality round biscuit, you usually knead the dough, roll it out a few times and then fashion the biscuits using a circular mold. For me, that involves too much work, and makes a quick-bread not all that quick.
I prefer what’s called the quick-drop method. For this, after making the batter in a bowl, you simply scoop up a spoonful and plop it onto the sheet pan that you’ll then throw into the oven. The result is a more rustic-looking, one-of-a-kind biscuit. But it’s just as delicious as the round version.
The only tricky part of making biscuits is combining the flour and fat, which is usually butter or shortening. This, too, can be done a couple of ways. One method is to “cut” it in, and that involves taking two knives and slicing through the flour and butter away from each other. The other way, which I prefer, is the “rubbed in” method of gently rubbing the mixture between your thumbs and index finger. Either way, the goal is to create a dough that looks like coarse meal and spreads the fat throughout the mixture. It’s also important that the fat, in this case butter, stays very cold. I usually freeze my butter for a few minutes before using.
As said, biscuits can be host to a cornucopia of ingredients, from blueberries to bacon. One of my favorites, though, is cheese. This recipe below calls for a four-cheese blend, like the kind you find shredded and packaged at the store. Additionally, I use buttermilk for added flavor, but you can just as easily use whole milk instead (in that case, skip the additional baking soda and use 4 teaspoons of baking powder). Ready for a biscuit primer? Let’s mix.
FOUR-CHEESE BUTTERMILK BISCUITS
(Yield: 16-20 biscuits)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter, very cold
- 3/4 cup finely shredded four-cheese blend
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, very cold
- Optional: melted butter to top biscuit batter
Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and garlic salt. If you don’t have a whisk, you can even do this with a fork.
Step 2: Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour mixture. Cut or rub in the butter until the dough appears mealy. Add the cheese and mix.
Step 3: Create a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk. Mix briskly with a spatula or two for no more than a minute, or until the flour is moist. Use more buttermilk or flour if needed.
Step 4: Using a large spoon or an ice cream scoop that’s been sprayed with nonstick spray, scoop and drop the dough onto a baking sheet that’s been spritzed with nonstick spray. For added flavor and a browner appearance, baste the dropped biscuit batter with melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the biscuits start to brown.
Congratulations: You just made cheese biscuits. Remember to use oven mitts when removing the tray, and let the biscuits cool slightly before devouring. Now that you are familiar with the biscuit process, experiment with other ingredients such as herbs, corn kernels or even dried fruit such as raisins.