Biscuits: Pillows of Happiness. And cheese.

If you know me at all, you know that one of my greatest joys in life is having my hands in dough. Bread dough, cookie dough, biscuit dough, what-have-you. I love the complex flavors that you can build using just flour, salt, and water. It is truly amazing.

Biscuits

I first got introduced into the world of baking via Alton Brown. Though I am quite positive you know who he is if you’re reading this blog, he is the well-known Food Network TV host of “Good Eats” and “Iron Chef America.” He is my culinary hero, to say the least. I remember vividly watching him on Good Eats, putting together these simple biscuits. Lovingly mixing the dough, delicately melding the flour, salt, baking soda, and shortening together to create biscuits that are lighter than air. His “grandmother” was standing by, eyeing him suspiciously as he explained the steps behind these beautiful pockets of love.

AltonBrown

See, biscuits are a family thing. To me, they symbolize that you are about to sit down with the people you love and eat a meal that has been slowly coming together all day. You’re piling the biscuits onto a platter, your mouth already watering in anticipation of the roast, the chicken, the tenderloin, whatever it is that you have been working on all day. The biscuits are the cook’s reward for her hard labor and an expression of her tender care for those at her table.

The base of this recipe is all Alton. I will provide a link at the end to the original recipe so you can enjoy greatness as I have. But since I have been baking for quite some time, I have added a tweak or two of my own. I love the original flavor of these biscuits, but I also enjoy adding various flavor combinations of my own. The flavors in this recipe come from me trying to please the somewhat finicky palate of my significant other.

Don’t get me wrong – he has advanced tremendously in the years that we have been together. But he clings stubbornly to his love of all things cheese. Fried, baked, shredded, whole, flaked – he eats it all, despite his evident lactose intolerance. Thus these biscuits are a result of my putting time and effort into a recipe I already loved for a person I’ve come to love the most.

JuliaChild

Here goes, my very first recipe. Similarly to Alton, I’ve broken it down into “hardware” and “software”. Hardware being the materials you need; i.e., pans, foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, etc. The non-food items. The software are the actual ingredients.

Hardware:

1 cookie sheet/sheet pan

1 large bowl

1 sieve/sifter

3 small/medium bowls

1 rubber spatula or wooden spoon

1 2-inch biscuit cutter

Software:

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons shortening

1 cup buttermilk, chilled

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup finely sliced scallions

First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. I recommend getting an oven thermometer, honestly, because ovens can be less-than-honest. Particularly if you live in an apartment like mine, where the appliances are apparently prehistoric.

Now, if you want your biscuits to be average, run-of-the-mill biscuits, don’t bother to do this. But if you want perfect, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits that your loved ones will rave about, then follow these next steps.

Set up your mise-en-place. This is French for “everything in its place.” Also, potentially meaning “giant pain in the ass.” Regardless, it will set you up for food and life success. Cut up your two tablespoons of unsalted butter into small pieces. Put it in a small bowl and place in the fridge. Do the same with your shortening. Pour your cup of buttermilk into a pourable container and also place into the fridge. Allow these ingredients to chill for at least half an hour.

While all that is chilling, sift the 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

When your butter, shortening, and buttermilk is all very well chilled, you’re ready to make biscuits. First, add your butter and shortening to your sifted dry ingredients. Before you start to mix, run your hands under extremely cold water for at least 30 seconds. This isn’t necessary, but it will make sure that your hands don’t melt the fats. It is extremely important that the butter and shortening do not melt before going into the oven.

Gently, gently mix the butter and shortening into the biscuits. Take the tips of your fingers and rub the butter and shortening into the flour mixture. The goal here is to create a mixture that resembles coarse sand. You want pea-size lumps of butter and shortening throughout. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, I suppose you could use a pastry cutter. But I like getting my hands dirty.

biscuitdough

After you get your mixture to look like coarse sand, grab your rubber spatula and buttermilk. Make a well in the middle of your sand-like mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Add the cheddar cheese and scallions at this time. Use your spatula to mix everything until it all just comes together. Do not overmix. It’s all right that there are lumps. It’s like a metaphor for life. Or whatever.

Roll out your dough to about a 1″ thickness and cut out your first set of rounds using your biscuit cutter. Gather the scraps and repeat. You should get a dozen biscuits out of this recipe.

Set your cut-out rounds onto an un-greased sheet pan. If you so desire, brush the tops with a little melted butter. Pop them into the over for about 15-20 minutes. I have found that 18 minutes is the perfect time. But that’s for my ancient oven that I’m pretty sure was stolen from the Smithsonian. 17493813_1788829428111461_2493602675698958336_n

Perfection. Obviously, the above-pictured biscuits are of the “plain” variety. But I think they are the prettiest.

I hope you have enjoyed this post – I sure enjoyed writing it. Upcoming posts will include curried beef with whole-wheat couscous, my non-labor-intensive ramen recipe, as well as a few essays on various food topics, such as why you need to read everything Anthony Bourdain has ever written, and why Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” is the documentary you needed to see yesterday.

Here is Alton’s original recipe, as promised.

Until later, my dear foodie friends.

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