The first day of fall was last week. It might still be warm out, but you know it’s coming. You can smell it in the air, that tinge of decay on the wind, the ground slowly getting crunchier below your feet. Even though in my heart I want to hang on to summer, I find myself craving hearty autumn foods. It’s almost primal, like my body knows what’s coming and will prepare whether I like it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I love fall as much as the next girl (although I find pumpkin spice lattes to be way too sweet for this black coffee lover), but the winters are sooooo loooong here in Chicago and autumn just signals that ominous slide into dark, gloomy winter hell that lasts for months longer than you ever expect, even after living here for 8 years.
The good news is, you can stop worrying so much about how you’ll look in shorts and crop tops and eat some of that damn delicious, heavy, bready, and salty food that you know you’ve been wanting all along.
Also, Mel asked for biscuits. Since she is the only one that responded to my request for suggestions, she gets biscuits.
Also, something fun, these buttermilk biscuits with compound butter are a Crumb What May Original Recipe! For the most part.
I say “for the most part” because you don’t really need a recipe for basic biscuits. Biscuits, just like cookies and pie dough, are just a ratio. The ratio for biscuits is 3 parts flour : 2 parts liquid : 1 part fat, plus a leavener (baking powder). The differences in things like texture and flavor are due to what type of ingredients you use in your ratio, the amount of baking powder you use, your preparation, and any additions you make such as salt or sugar.
I wanted to give you my biscuit recipe, but I also wanted you to know why I made the decisions I made when working through the recipe. Then, if you like your biscuits a little different than mine, you will have the tools to change the recipe to fit your needs. Sound good? Great! If you don’t give a shit about why I made the choices I made and just want the recipe, also great, click here to jump to the recipe.
Oh, and more fun surprises! As the title suggests, this is a Double Recipe Post! That’s right, TWO RECIPES! How lucky you are. There’s a recipe for Basil and Chive Compound Butter after the biscuits recipe, so check that out too. It’s a great use for leftover heavy cream.
I chose all-purpose flour because it’s easiest and I had it on hand. I also felt that bread flour might be too dense. If you wanted to use something like whole wheat or a gluten-free flour like almond… well that’s a different story as you’d have to adjust for if the alternative flour absorbs more liquid and you might have to add a binding agent to make up for the lack of gluten and all kinds of other headaches that I don’t have the expertise to get into. So this ratio is, unfortunately, exclusively for gluten-full biscuits.
I used butter as my fat because I feel it has the best flavor. I mean, what’s better than butter? Shortening to me doesn’t taste like anything at all. Personally, the only good reason I can see for using shortening would be if you were making vegan biscuits. I did try a batch with lard (so, the opposite of vegan biscuits) and they were… ok. There are other baking instances where I prefer lard, but when it comes to biscuits, I’m a butter girl through and through. I found the lard to be a little dense and slightly drier than the butter biscuits. I also used slightly more than than 1 part butter in my ratio because I liked the flavor.
I used buttermilk as my liquid for a couple of reasons: First, I enjoy the tangy flavor. Second, the lactic acid in the buttermilk reacts with the carbon dioxide gas produced by baking powder to make the biscuits fluffier, as well as breaking down the longer strands of gluten resulting in a more tender texture. SCIENCE!
If you don’t like the flavor of buttermilk, or simply don’t have it on hand and don’t want to go to the store, you can use regular milk (or water if you like sad, flavorless biscuits), but you may want to use a smidge more baking powder. You can also sour your own milk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar per 1 cup of milk and letting it sit for about 10 minutes. It won’t have quite as much of the same effect as the real thing, but it’ll get you close.
The amount of baking powder you use is dependent on the texture of biscuits that you want. More baking powder = fluffier biscuits. Be aware, however, that the more you use the more likely it is that you will taste it. Baking powder has a very bitter and chemically aftertaste that can be quite unpleasant. I find you can most often taste it when you get a batch of mediocre pancakes and you get that weird fizzy bitterness in the back of your mouth at the end of the bite. That’s the baking powder. I used 1.5 tablespoons of baking powder per 2.5ish cups of flour.
I wanted my biscuits to be fluffy enough to be enjoyed on their own with jam or honey, but dense enough to accompany a soup or meat dish and I found this amount accomplished that task for me. If you want more fluff, you can add more. If you like them denser, add less. But I would not add less than 2.5 teaspoons as you would probably end up with a bready brick. Also, be aware if you add a lot of baking powder your biscuits might rise more than they can structurally handle and could flop over in the oven. If that doesn’t bother you, then proceed. You can also try baking them from frozen to help keep them together (directions in recipe). Just my 2 cents.
There’s a lot of debate on things like how to incorporate the butter and how much to knead the dough, etc. In the end, I find it’s really not that big a deal how you do it. I chose to freeze my butter and grate it into my flour mixture simply because that seemed easiest: grate it in, toss it around to coat, done. You can also use a pastry cutter, food processor, or two knives to cut the butter into the flour. Just make sure you’re keeping your butter cold while you do it so it doesn’t melt. For kneading, I found about 10 kneads to be enough to bring the dough together, which is all you need and about as much working as you want to do as the big pieces of butter melting between layers of flour is what gives biscuits their flakiness.
I did do one thing different than a lot of people do, however. After kneading, I gave my dough 3 croissant-style letter/book turns. I did this because I remember my favorite store-bought biscuits growing up were the Pillsbury “layers” biscuits. Not because they were any more tasty in any way, but I enjoyed eating the biscuit layer by layer. So I thought letter turns might accomplish that, and I was right!
If you don’t know what a letter/book turn is, basically you roll your dough into a rectangle (keep it a little thick for this task), then fold over the short ends one on top of the other like you are folding a business letter. Rotate a quarter turn and repeat. I was going to make a video for you but alas, life. There are plenty of good ones floating around the internet to help you, however. This step is not necessary, but I thought it helped.
Note, my recipe is not exactly 3:2:1, but you will be using more flour when rolling/kneading which gets incorporated into the dough as well. Also, it’s just me and the hubs in this house, so the recipe is a small batch. It can easily be scaled up to make more.
Without further ado, here is the full recipe:
- 10.5 oz All Purpose Flour about 2 1/2 cups
- 1 1/2 tbsp Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Salt
- 4 oz Unsalted Butter about 1/2 cup or 1 stick
- 8.2 oz Buttermilk about 1 cup
- Start by putting your stick of butter in the freezer. Preheat your oven to 400.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a cheese grater, grate the butter into the bowl of flour.
- Use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour and break up any large clumps until you have pea-sized pieces of butter left. Put the bowl back in the freezer for a few minutes to keep the butter from softening.
- Make a well in the center of the butter/flour mixture and pour in your buttermilk. Mix with a fork until it starts to come together, then finish bringing it together with your hands. Once it starts to form a ball (should be quick), scrape it out onto a floured surface and give it about 10 kneads until a good dough starts to form. You should still be able to see pieces of butter in the dough, but it should not feel wet or overly sticky.
- Form the dough into a ball, then roll into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Fold over the short ends into the center into thirds like a letter. Turn the dough a quarter turn clockwise, then repeat the folding and rolling 2 more times. After the last fold, roll the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick and cut out biscuits using a 3 inch round cookie cutter. If using a smaller cutter, you can roll the biscuits slightly thinner. Once you've cut out as many as you can, you can squish the scrap back together, roll it back out to 3/4 inch, and cut again. Try not to overwork the dough, however, squish and roll it together just enough that it can be cleanly cut again.
- Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the baking sheet, and bake another ten minutes. Biscuits are done with they are golden brown and flaky. Option to brush the tops with melted butter when they come out of the oven.
If you find they are falling over and losing their shape as they bake, you can freeze them on the baking sheet, then bake from frozen. You can also make a large batch, freeze them on the baking sheet, then move them to a freezer bag once frozen. You can then bake them one or two at a time as you want them.
Compound butter is just a fancy word for butter that has flavors mixed in. You can do savory, like this one, or sweet, like cinnamon sugar. This is a great way to use up left over heavy cream if you made a recipe that called for 1 flipping tablespoon and you had to buy a whole quart. Making your own butter is super easy, you just whip cream until you have butter, thats it! This article has some great reference pictures. But you can also use store-bought butter if you want.
Fresh Basil and Chive Compound Butter
- 6 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream or 1 Pound of Unsalted Butter
- 2 tbsp Finely Chopped Fresh Basil
- 3 tbsp Finely Chopped Fresh Chives
- 1/4 tsp Salt
- If you're making your own butter:Add cream to the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk starting on medium low until the cream starts to get thick, about 2 minutes. Turn the speed up to medium high or high and let mix for about 10 to 15 minutes. You will know its done when you start to hear a splashing/sloshing sound, and the cream will have separated into butter and butter milk. The butter will be gathered mostly in the whisk, and the buttermilk will be in the bowl. You may want to cover the mixer with a towel or plastic wrap as the buttermilk will most likely start to splash. The butter should be smooth.
- Remove the butter from the whisk and any little pieces in the bottom of the bowl. You can save the buttermilk for other uses. Squeeze as much of the moisture as you can out of the butter, either with your hands, a cheesecloth, or pressing it into a fine mesh seive with a spatula. Roll it up in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes before adding your herbs.
- If you're using store-bought butter:Leave your butter out for about 15 minutes to soften. You don't want it so soft it melts immediately when you touch it, but soft enough to be maliable.
- For both:Chop up your herbs. Place your butter on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper on a cutting board and smash it with clean hands until relatively flat. Sprinkle some of the herbs and salt on top. Fold the butter over a few times using the edges of the plastic or paper so that you don't melt the butter too much with the heat of your hands. Keep sprinkling and kneading until the herbs are evenly distributed throughout the butter. Use more or less herbs to taste. Roll the butter into a log and wrap tightly with plastic and refridgerate until ready to use.
Great on biscuits (obviously), or used in cooking for meats, pasta, rice, whatever!