Posts Tagged ‘biscuits’

Biscuits 101 (Instructional!)

May 21, 2008

I got such a good response on the last demo I did, I thought I’d share my biscuit recipe. I should clarify, this recipe was given to me by my former chef/instructor Janet MacGregor in cooking school. This is also her technique, which she said she learned from a French baker she worked for.

So, the first thing you should always remember to do when you start cooking is turn on your oven and prepare your pans. Recite that like a mantra whenever you go to cook. Nothing sucks like going to all the trouble preparing something and then discovering you have a cold oven to put it in. As far as pans go, I like to use heavy-duty sheet pans that I buy at the restaurant supply and line them with parchment. You can also use Silpat Mats. If you’re using parchment or silpats, you won’t need to grease the sheet, though I say that a quick spray of non-stick cooking spray can’t hurt.

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or reusable parchment.

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On that note, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you have convection on your oven, use that. It’ll help the biscuits brown more evenly. With convection, you should always set your oven for 25 degrees lower because it will run hotter with the fan going, so I’m setting mine for 375 degrees.

Next, get your mis en place together. Mis en place loosely means “everything in it’s place”. Get together all of your ingredients, tools, bowls, etc., everything you need to make it happen.

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When it comes to baking, I’m a big believer in weight as a measurement rather than volume. It’s a lot more accurate. Get yourself a scale. You’ll need a big bowl, a measuring cup, a bench scraper, a flexible bench scraper/spatula, a rolling pin and if you insist, cup measures and measuring spoons. (Go ahead….measure away….let me know what you find out….I’m too lazy to do it for you…..get a scale, bitches.) Here is your formula:

20 oz of All-Purpose Flour (1 pound 4 ounces)
½ oz of fine sea salt
1 oz of baking powder (I like Rumford Baking Powder. It’s less bitter.)
½ oz of sugar
10 oz of cold unsalted butter
1 egg
14 oz of cold buttermilk

The egg and sugar in the above recipe make for a slightly longer shelf-life biscuit than some. Here is another formula for a crispier, eat-right-out-of-the-oven-but-don’t-bother-saving biscuit (use same technique):

2 AP Flour (2 pounds of all-purpose flour)
½ oz of fine sea salt
2 oz baking powder
12 oz cold unsalted butter
24oz cold buttermilk (1 pound 8 ounces)

Ok, got all your shit together? Let’s begin.

Start mixing all the dry ingredients together. (That is the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar.) Cut the cold butter into the flour. (It’s very important that your butter be really cold. You don’t want it melting from the heat of your hands because that will make for a tough biscuit. If your kitchen is hot as ass like mine is, freeze the butter. It’ll warm as soon as you start handling it. Some people are really anal and chill the hell out of everything including the flour and the bowl but you don’t have to get that crazy.) This technique is very similar to the tortilla recipe in the previous blog but instead of cutting the fat in until crumbly, you’re going to leave the pieces of butter in larger chunks. Most recipes for biscuits will tell you pea size lumps but I say think lima bean size. The reason for this is when the butter melts, it produces steam and the steam will leave an empty space in the biscuit and that’s what makes the flake, baby.

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Ok, now mix your wet ingredients together, that is, the egg and the buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour your liquid mixture in the middle.

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Then, start mixing the liquid into the dry ingredients. You only want to stir until it comes together.

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Then, go ahead and put some flour down and transfer the dough to the work surface. You don’t want to add too much more flour, just enough to keep it from sticking. Fold it over on itself 2 or 3 times to get it to come together. You want to fold it in half, press together, and then fold in half again. You do not want this to be a smooth dough. You do not want to knead it. Flatten it and then fold it again. The more you handle this dough, the tougher it will get so use restraint and a light hand. You just want it to hold together.

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Now, get your rolling pin and roll the dough out to about an inch thick. Fold it in half and then roll it out again. I like to make a grid in the dough to evenly distribute the layers and then roll that out. Fold it into quarters. Then roll that out to about an inch thick. During all this folding, use the bench scraper to help you move the dough around, especially if it sticks to the surface.

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At this point you will see a certain smoothness to the dough with big chunks of butter distributed throughout. Next step, get whatever biscuit cutters you like. I like the Ateco biscuit cutters. They come in different shapes. They’re nice and sharp. Some people swear by using a upturned glass. You can do this. I don’t think it’s sharp enough. It tends to crush the top and bottom layer together and you want the layers to rise. Using sharp cutters and flouring them in between cutting each biscuit will cut a nice clean shape with the top and bottom layers separate.

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Now, when you go to cut your biscuit, start at one edge. Cut all the way down and remove it. No need to twist the cutter, just go straight down. What you’re left with is some little scraps of dough sticking out from where you just cut like peninsulas. Tuck these under the dough and and continue cutting from the edge. See, most people cut all their biscuits out and then re-roll the scraps. What you’re left with is about half a recipe of good biscuits and half shitty, tough biscuits that were cut out from the scraps you re-rolled. This way, you avoid over-toughening the dough. At the end, you’re left with a fucked-up looking one. We always called this Charlie’s biscuit after Sean’s late brother Charlie Shannon. He would always want us to save him that biscuit. I guess it had more nooks and crannies for butter.

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Look at the layers:

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Peninsulas:

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Tuck under:

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Start from the edge again:

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Space them out evenly a couple of inches apart, giving them plenty of room to expand, topple over…whatever.

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Place in the (preheated!) oven and bake for 13 minutes. Then take them out and turn them around and switch their places. This is mainly for people without convection but it doesn’t hurt to do it anyway. It browns them more evenly. Then, bake for about 13-15 minutes more or until golden. Remove and cool on a rack.

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Get yourself some good butter. I like English butters, like this one:

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Chef gets first pick. Gotta eat Charlie’s in his honor. This one’s for you, Chuckie.

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