Biscuits didn’t make frequent appearances on our table when I was a child. No, we were more of a grocery store bakery Italian bread family — always purchased fresh that day with a crusty outside and a soft, airy inside. Since I wasn’t a fan of the crusty outside, I would tear out the insides of the bread, roll it into a doughy ball and eat it that way. Odd, I know, but it was the way I enjoyed it.
Don’t worry, I don’t eat bread that way anymore. Just can’t get away with that at 31.
This isn’t about my bread eating habits though. We’re here to talk biscuits. Though I didn’t eat them much as I child, I actually love them and make them often in the winter. Delicate, fluffy biscuits are a dream.
Still, I’m picky about my biscuits. While I love Cream Biscuits and my special layered Whole Wheat Biscuits, I’ve looked down on Baking Powder Biscuits because they seemed to be denser, heavier biscuits that are dry and boring. That’s the way they had always turned out when I made them. But it turns out that I have been missing out. It’s all in the recipe (isn’t that always the case?). In this instance, I turned to a classic.
Awhile back, I bought a box of old recipes and cookbooks on eBay. I have a slight obsession with vintage cookbooks and recipes, so when I saw this set I had to have it. The recipes — a lot from the 20s, 30s and 40s — are an amazing look at how people used to cook. This weekend, I was looking through them and came across the 1926 Watkins Cook Book, a small book of recipes by The J.R. Watkins Company. The company made (actually they still make) all sorts of baking items including baking powder (among many other things). While I was leafing through it, the recipe for Baking Powder Biscuits jumped out at me.
These biscuits are amazing — light and fluffy with a slightly crisp, crumbly exterior. My version is adapted from the original and updated for modern cooking. While the original recipe didn’t specify a cooking temperature, I tested a couple temperatures to find out what worked best — it ended up being a mix of lower, slow cooking and a broiling finish. I also traded in the shortening that the original recipe called for, using butter instead, and added a brush of butter on the top before broiling, which is just biscuit magic. The buttery top changes these from a fluffy biscuit to a heavenly one.
Making these is simple. You need only a few basic ingredients. You probably have everything for these in your kitchen right now. (Not pictured: Milk)
And a few tools. Note: I didn’t use the biscuit cutter pictured when I made these — it was too big. A smaller 2-inch biscuit cutter is necessary for these.
First, you sift together the dry ingredients.
Then you cut in the butter.
Add the milk and stir until the dough comes together. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead it a bit.
Roll it out until it’s 1/2-inch thick. Then cut the biscuits with a 2-inch cutter. Or a jelly jar, as I did. Be sure to press down and pull up on the cutter (or jar) without turning it. This ensures that the sides remain lose and willing to rise.
Transfer them from the cutting board to a baking sheet lined with parchment or nonstick aluminum foil. Then you bake them. Once they are just about starting to color, you brush them with butter and broil them for a minute or two more. They end up a perfect golden color with amazing inner and outer texture.
All in all, the making of these takes about 10 minutes (really. I made them twice today to make sure I had the time, temperature and method just right). You have time to whip up biscuits in 10 minutes, right?
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into pieces
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp low-fat milk
- 1 tsp salted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder until well combined (about 30 seconds). Cut the pieces of cold unsalted butter into the flour mixture until they are tiny and dispersed throughout. Add the milk and stir well until the dough forms a rough ball.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (I use a big wooden cutting board). Then knead lightly with floured hands until the dough is a smoother ball. Pat down into a circle. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out until it's 1/2-inch thick. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter (or a jelly jar) to cut circles from the dough. Knead scraps and re-roll the dough as needed until you've used all but a small bit.
Arrange the biscuits on the baking sheet. Slide into the oven and bake for 14-15 minutes, until the tops begin to color slightly. Remove from the oven. Turn off the oven and start the broiler. Meanwhile, melt the salted butter and brush the tops of the biscuits with it.
Slide the tray bake into the oven and broil for 1-2 minutes, watching very carefully, until the biscuits turn golden.