Monday, October 8, 2007

Drop Biscuits - a new method

It was just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned how FUN it is (for me, anyway) when I discover a new method for making some heretofore ordinary dish. That was the green beans with garlic and olive oil. So, now, I have a great new recipe for you. This one is compliments of Cooks Illustrated, the bi-monthly magazine. I've subscribed to this gem for many years. And I think I've mentioned before (also) that I truly enjoy reading the long treatises on individual subjects. It could be gravy for pork chops, or just the right texture for fudgy brownies. You get the drift.

The subject of this article was : "The Best Drop Biscuit," by Sandra Wu. The writer (food developer) explained the steps and stages she used to refine a favorite, the lowly drop biscuit. I don't make drop biscuits very often. Why? I don't know . . . I think I prefer the kind that you knead just a little bit, then pat out the dough and cut with a biscuit cutter. Plus, they're perhaps a bit easier to break apart without falling apart. And sometimes drop biscuits are unevenly baked because they're not all the same size or shape. An inherent problem with a drop biscuit. But this new method solves most of those problems.

The only thing you need for this recipe is butter (the real stuff) and buttermilk. (Although, to be fair, the recipe does indicate how to make clabbered milk instead of buttermilk.) I try to have buttermilk on hand. Once I've used whatever I needed it for, I freeze it in 1-cup freezer cups. My scones require exactly one cup. So do these biscuits, which will now become part of my regular repertoire. Now, whether this method for drop biscuits would work with defrosted buttermilk, I'm not sure. So, for now I won't recommend that until I try it. Once defrosted, buttermilk gets a bit watery. It works fine for my scones, but, as I explain below, it might not work for these biscuits.

I won't belabor all the explanation the author went through to finally GET to the final product. I found it very interesting. You might not. But, what's unusual is: you pour slightly cooled, but melted butter INTO the one cup of buttermilk before adding that to the dry ingredients. Who woulda thunk that coulda make such a difference? Certainly not me! Here's a picture of the clumpy buttermilk.

The writer is enough of a baking chemist to know that you need to stabilize - or equalize the temperatures of the butter and the usually cold buttermilk. She kept getting this clumpy mass (see picture), and probably threw away countless efforts of that combination. But one time she decided to go ahead and use that clumpy mess in the biscuit anyway. Voila! As you stir the moderately warm/hot butter into the cold buttermilk the little clumps in buttermilk that are there naturally attach themselves to all the little molecules of butter. And you have this heaping cup full of lumps. It's such an incongruous pile of stuff.

But anyway, you pour all that into the dry ingredients, stir just until mixed thoroughly (no kneading) and you're ready to make quick drop biscuits. She recommended using a greased 1/4-cup measuring cup. I used cooking spray, which didn't work all that well, I must say. Keep the waxed paper the butter is wrapped in and grease the measuring cup with that. The 2nd time I made these I used a narrow metal sandwich spreader to kind of scoop out the batter. Buttering the 1/4-cup measure didn't work any better than cooking spray. Whichever method you use, you scoop equal 1/4-cup measures of the batter and drop onto parchment on a baking sheet. Then you gently reshape any that aren't uniform.

Now, there's a side story (a sidebar) in the article about the use of parchment vs. a Silpat. I have bunches of silpats and I use them constantly. In the usual Cooks Illustrated's style, they did a study of these biscuits using both. They far prefer parchment because they believe silicone mats (silpats or others) can impart some off-flavors. Mostly that wouldn't bother me, but since biscuits are such a delicate flavored item, I took their advice and used paper. Then, I straightened all of the biscuits on the sheet - to make sure none were too high, or short, etc. That made a big difference - all the biscuits were perfectly, evenly browned.

Need I say they were a big hit? A BIG hit. These biscuits are so very light and tender. The master recipe is for a plain biscuit, but they also gave variations for both Black Pepper and Bacon Biscuits, and Rosemary and Parmesan Biscuits. I made the bacon and pepper version. We had leftovers of soup last night, and made the biscuits again, but also added some sharp cheddar cheese, at my son-in-law's request. Any way you make them, they're good.

Best Drop Biscuits
Recipe: Sandra Wu, Cooks Illustrated
Servings: 12
2 cups all-purpose flour -- unbleached, if possible
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk -- COLD
8 tablespoons unsalted butter -- melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons butter -- melted, for brushing tops
Bacon/Pepper Variation: cut 6 slices bacon into small pieces and fry until crisp. Crumble. Add bacon and 1 tsp. coarsely ground pepper to the dry mixture in step 1.
Rosemary/Parmesan Variation: add 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 tsp. minced rosemary to the flour mixture in step 1.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. (Or, you can sift it together.)
2. In a medium bowl (at least 1 1/2 cups or larger) combine the cold buttermilk and the melted and slightly cooled butter. Stir until buttermilk forms clumps.
3. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from side of the bowl.
4. Using a greased 1/4-cup measure, scoop level amounts of batter and drop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, approximately 2 1/4 inches across and 1 1/4 inches high. Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, approximately 12-14 minutes.
5. Brush biscuit tops with remaining 2 T. melted butter. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, or serve immediately.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 171 Calories; 10g Fat (52.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 309mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable PDF Recipe, click title at top.

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