I could go blue in the face touting the benefits of homemade biscuits, but I’ll let the incredible Laurie Colwin say it for me:
I have come to believe that anyone who walks into a kitchen should know how to make biscuits. Biscuits are the utility infielder of the culinary world: They serve as bread, as snacks, as something to nibble with cocktails. You can use them for shortcake or pizza crusts, or pile them with peaches and make a sweet pizza. They can be plain, spicy, savory, or sweet. You can eat them hot or cold, and furthermore, they closely resemble their first cousin (or twin sister), the scone. You can make them for sandwiches or serve them with soup. There is nothing in this world as useful or as delicious.
Colwin wrote a whole epistle to the greatness of the biscuit in More Home Cooking, which, in terms of cookbooks, works double-duty as the best friend in the kitchen you wish you had and also the kind of bedside reading that will give you the sweetest dreams around.
Or the savoriest, depending on how you like things.
There are about a billion and a half recipes on how to make the perfect biscuit, but the god’s honest truth is it’s up to you. The basics are all you need, and after you’ve got that down, you can go just about anywhere with them.
To make about about a dozen:
- 2 1/2 cups of flour
- half stick butter
- 2 t baking powder
- 3/4 cup dairy
And after that, it’s really up to you.
In terms of flour, I’d really urge you to go with either a good artisan flour (King Arthur’s Sir Galahad is ideal) or a basic bread flour, like Gold Medal’s Better for Bread flour. If you don’t have that, don’t worry - plain old unbleached everyday flour works perfectly, too. I have used the gluten-free baking blend you can get from Bob’s Mill and it’s pretty okay, too.
If you have some sort of aversion to butter, fret not: you could use margarine, vegetable shortening, or if you’re really going extreme, there are even some fantastic vegan substitutes out there from the likes of Earth Balance and Spectrum Organics.
The dairy is really up to you. You could use milk - sweet, sour, or buttermilk, you could use goat’s milk, or you can use a mixture of milk and yogurt. I like to mix a little regular old milk and some Chobani, which I always seem to have on hand.
Cut the butter into the flour and the baking powder.
You can do this by hand, by ricer, or by using two knives and deftly not cutting yourself but making impressive looking moves to rub that butter and flour together to a nice mix.
When it’s well blended, add the dairy.
You want a not-too-sticky dough, and depending on the heat, humidity, and whatever other mysteries hang in the balance of the universe, you may have to add more flour or liquid.
Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead five times.
Roll out your dough and use a biscuit cutter (or a star-shaped cookie cutter for the Fourth of July), or roll the dough into a log and cut off the biscuits one by one.
Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes.
Once you’ve got the basics, you can add just about anything else. You can go sweet - a little brown sugar or honey can make for an intensely good shortbread-style dessert, or add cayenne, cheese, chives, or sour cream to do a nice savory biscuit. If your husband is anything like mine, you can probably make him die of happiness with some cheddar and bacon in there. A little tomato, mozzerella, and basil also makes for a great side biscuit for a lunch.
The whole point is to trust your gut. You simply CAN’T screw up a biscuit (really, even if you burn it, you needed some paper weights, right?).
I like to make things festive, though, so for the Fourth of July, I went with star-shaped biscuits, and to give it the good clean and fresh taste a hot summer requires, I added chives and parm to the dough and then baked them with pimenton (smoked paprika) and fresh sea salt. Perfect for a picnic, and an easy addition to just about any other meal you can think of.