Biscuits! Light, flaky, rich, and cheesy (and remarkably speedy to make), they make frequent appearances at our house. They’re decadent, so I usually serve them with something healthy, such as soup or big salads.
I hear that you are not considered a real Southerner unless you can make a properly light, flaky biscuit. I’m a quintessential Northerner: the majority of my ancestors came from Canada and Scotland. This, I feel, exempts me from the pressure to make a flawless biscuit.
These are darned close, though. If you use very cold butter and don’t over-mix, your biscuits will be light. I cut the butter into small cubes and smear them into the dry ingredients with the tips of my fingers. This ensures that some of the butter is fully incorporated into the flour and some is left in small, flattish pieces the size and shape of cornflakes. Those butter flakes steam as the biscuits bake, creating air pockets in the dough.
There’s some discussion on whether it’s better to place the biscuits close together or to give them space. I’ve tried both; mine tend to rise a little more if they’re nearly touching. Let me know what you think. A juice glass makes a terrific biscuit cutter if you dip the rim in flour after every cut.
I’ve made these with whole milk when we were out of half-and-half; they were just fine. I’ve also made them with pepper-jack instead of cheddar for a little heat. Chives are pretty and add a subtle onion flavor, but it’s fine to leave them out when they’re out of season. A glaze of cream or beaten egg on the top of the dough gives a golden crunch.
adapted from Silver Palate: The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
makes ten 2-inch biscuits
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. baking powder
6 tbs. (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
9 tbs. half and half or whole milk (1/2 cup + 1 tbs.), cold
1 tbs. minced chives, optional
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter a cookie sheet or small baking pan.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Mix in the butter. Use two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingers. I like to squeeze the butter bits between my fingers quickly, creating thin sheets of butter. Be careful not to let the butter warm up. You’re not looking to have all the butter completely incorporated here.
Once some of the butter is well mixed in and there are still bits and flakes here and there, quickly stir in the cheddar. Pour in the half and half and stir with a fork just to combine. As soon as the dough barely holds together, dump it out onto a floured surface. Knead it a few times, then pat it into a circle just under an inch thick.
Flour the edges of a 2-inch round cookie cutter or juice glass and cut one biscuit right at the edge of the dough. Twist to release the biscuit and set it on the prepared pan. Dip the cutter into flour again and repeat until you can’t cut any more biscuits. Gently push the remaining dough together and cut one more, then form the final scraps into a mound roughly the same thickness as the biscuits.
Brush the tops with extra cream or a beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes until the tops are golden and the biscuits are puffed and flaky.