Those of us who traveled out of town for Thanksgiving are likely back in our own kitchens with the holiday leftovers now several cities or even several states away. What that means is that those of us who’ve returned home but have yet to do the weekly shopping are either ordering takeout or bravely cobbling together a dinner made from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator, freezer, and kitchen pantry. For me, this meant resisting the urge to have Cranberry Clafouti for dinner even though I had all of the ingredients—flour, milk, eggs, cranberries, sugar, butter, vanilla—required to make this lovely sweet something that is not really a pancake but also not quite a custard. Lest you think I staved off temptation because of some stalwart commitment to always eating “right,” I feel I should admit that I resisted making the clafouti only because I had made it for dinner twice in the week before I left town for Thanksgiving (and, truth be told, I also made it once for breakfast during that week, and if memory serves, this was on a morning after I had had clafouti for dinner. Damn you, clafouti, for being so tasty and so easy to make!). Such decadence preceding what is arguably the most decadent meal of the year is not something anyone should make into a habit, so clearly, something needed to be done to break this vicious clafouti cycle.
Fortunately, because I went shopping at the farmer’s market just two days before I left town, I came home to a pantry that had rather a lot more to offer than a random assortment of canned goods and a few jars of condiments. I had eggs, a few good-sized leeks, an assortment of wild mushrooms that had not only survived a week in my refrigerator but actually still looked great, and my usual stock of baking necessities: flour, butter, sugar, salt, and leavenings. I decided on scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and leeks over homemade biscuits, despite the fact that I had never made a biscuit that I truly enjoyed. I’ve had several great biscuits in my day, but none of them had ever come out of my kitchen. The ones that I had tried to make were always disappointing, failing as they did to compare with the biscuits I had meant to make: that is to say, biscuits that would be fluffy and not dense, moist and not crumbly.
Still, just because I hadn’t ever made a good biscuit, that does not mean I regarded good biscuits as being totally out of my league, forever unattainable, always to be supplied by some other, masterful biscuit maker. My students at the university where I teach often say at the beginning of the semester, “I’m just not a good writer,” a statement which always leads me to respond, “You’re not a good writer yet.” And so, on this Saturday after Thanksgiving, with the promise of savory scrambled eggs humbly scattered across feathery, light, moist homemade biscuits, I told myself, “You haven’t made good biscuits yet,” and set about trying once again to do so.
For help, I turned to Nicole Rees, whose book, Baking Unplugged is quickly becoming one of my favorite baking books ever. (Mind you, the clafouti recipe is also in this tome, so you can imagine the temptation I had to overcome to skip past that and move on to the recipe for biscuits.) So far, I’ve liked everything I’ve made from this book (and, obviously, really liked that clafouti), including her Coffee Cocoa Snack Cake, cakey cranberry muffins, and Morning Rolls made with cardamom and orange zest and studded with rum-soaked raisins. I trust this author—her knowledge, her advice, and especially her palate. And so, armed with her recipe for Southern-Style Pull-Apart Biscuits, I gave this biscuit-making thing another try.
The biscuits were, in a word, amazing. In several words, they were also unbelievably easy to make. I imagine that the hand-forming (rather than rolled out and then cut) method of shaping the dough helps to keep the biscuits fluffy and prevent them from getting tough or dried out. Also, grating the butter in the manner indicated in the recipe cut down on the time required to blend the butter with the dry ingredients, and as many a baker knows, the less time you spend mixing a non-yeast dough, the less likely it is to resemble a hockey puck once baked.
Besides being fluffy and moist, the biscuits also had great flavor. Rees wittily comments on her obsession with butter throughout her book (her recipe for chocolate chip cookies calls for melting half of the butter in order to yield a cookie with even more butter flavor), and with this recipe, it’s easy to see why she’s developed such an obsession. The biscuits themselves were so buttery and moist that they could be enjoyed with very little butter once out of the oven. Of course, that shouldn’t stop anyone who is so inclined from slathering each biscuit with a nice dollop of buttery goodness.
The recipe follows below. As for the eggs that went atop my biscuits: I sautéed roughly a third of a cup of leeks and three-quarters of a cup of chopped mushrooms in two teaspoons of olive oil. I like my scrambled eggs to be a mixture of one whole egg combined with the whites of two other eggs, so that’s how I did these. Seasoned everything with salt and pepper.
No picture of the eggs, just the biscuits. The picture doesn’t do them justice, failing as it does to communicate how buttery-rich, feathery and moist these babies are. This:
was my best attempt at capturing their fluffy interior on film. (I am no food photographer, which is probably plainly evident by now.)
Usually when I post a recipe on my blog, I offer advice about what I will do differently or have done differently when making the recipe, based on previous results. With this, as with the other recipes in Rees’s book, however, I find no alteration necessary (though I would imagine these biscuits would be great with chopped fresh herbs added to the dry ingredients along with the buttermilk). I loved these with my eggs, but I’m also planning to have them with the vegetarian chili I’ll be making tomorrow. I also think they’d be wonderful with fruit as a shortcake base (which is one of the ways Rees uses them in the book), and delightful with some ham for lunch or with breakfast. Enjoy!
Southern-Style Pull-Apart Biscuits
Recipe by Nicole Rees, author of Baking Unplugged
1 ½ C. cake flour
2 C. all-purpose flour (divided)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ C. cold unsalted butter
1 ½ C. cold buttermilk
1 to 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the biscuits
Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a 13 x 9” baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together the cake flour, 1 ½ cups of the all-purpose flour, the sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda until well combined. Using the medium shredding holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the flour, tossing often to coat the butter with the flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it forms ¼” pieces. Gently fold in the buttermilk until the flour is mostly incorporated. Don’t overmix—the batter will be thick, sticky, and lumpy.
Place the remaining ½ cup flour in a small bowl. Scoop about 1/3 cup of dough into the dusting flour, rolling the dough to coat it evenly. Gently roll or pat the dough into a round ball and drop into the pan. Repeat this procedure with the remaining dough, 5 biscuits the long way in the pan and 3 the short way, leaving small gaps between the dough balls. Press the tops to flatten slightly and brush them with the melted butter. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 18 to 22 minutes, or until no longer doughy in the center and browned on the tops.