American Classics: Biscuits

Brushing Butter on Biscuits
American cooking guru Scott Peacock offers the inside scoop on baking the fluffiest, lightest biscuit.

Perfect biscuits require a few basics: a hot oven, cold fat, and a gentle yet knowing hand. To get the details down pat, we made a batch with American cooking guru Scott Peacock.
For the steps to biscuit bliss, and to get Scott's recipe, click through the following slides.

Step 1: Choose the right flour. Use any good unbleached all-purpose flour (Scott prefers organic), instead of the soft-wheat flour that many bakers use. "It makes a slightly sturdier and more flavorful biscuit," says Scott. "It is also available in most all supermarkets."

Step 2: Sift the flour. Scott achieves lighter biscuits by sifting the flour before measuring.

Step 3: Get serious about leavening. Making your own baking powder is easy and economical. Sift together three times the following: 1/4 cup cream of tartar and two tablespoons baking soda. Store in a clean, dry, tight-sealing jar at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, up to four weeks.

Step 4: Combine your dry ingredients. Scott uses a wire whisk -- his "favorite tool for mixing the dry ingredients," he explains. "It does a quick and thorough job."

Step 5: Measure the lard. "Good lard makes for good biscuits, so be sure to get the best quality you can find," says Scott. "In addition to being the traditional shortening for biscuit making, it has a higher melting point than other shortenings, which means it stays solid longer in the oven, resulting in flakier, more tender biscuits."

Step 6: Work the lard into your dry ingredients. Completing this step properly "is the secret to success," says Scott. "First, coat the lard in the flour mixture and rub between your fingertips until roughly half the lard is coarsely blended and the other half remains in large pieces, about 3/4 inch in size."

Step 7: Pour in the buttermilk. "I prefer buttermilk," says Scott. "It helps make a tender biscuit, and I like the slight sharp flavor buttermilk imparts. But you can also use clabbered milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half."

Step 8: Stir with a purpose. When mixing the dough, stir just until the batter is well-moistened and begins to cling together. Overworking can lead to tough, dry, and heavy biscuits; underworking can result in biscuits that are crumbly and leaden.

Step 9: Turn the dough from the bowl. "It will be sticky and should barely cling together," notes Scott.

Step 10: Knead the dough. Go for a light touch when kneading. Knead gently but quickly and avoid pressing too firmly. Lift and fold the dough gently onto itself, giving it a quarter turn after each knead.

Step 11: Roll the dough. Use a floured rolling pin to roll from center toward edges. Avoid pressing too firmly. If dough sticks to rolling pin, dust the pin, not the dough.

Step 12: Dock the dough. Pricking the dough with a fork before baking allows steam to be released during baking, which helps the biscuits rise more evenly.

Step 13: Cut out the biscuits. Stamp out the biscuits as close together as possible to get the maximum yield. Do not twist the cutter. Twisting seals the sides and inhibits rising.

Step: 14: Remove the dough from your cutter. For best results, slightly shake the filled cutter to free the biscuit. Don't overhandle. Arrange biscuits as close together as you can so they barely touch.

Step 15: Make a 'baker's treat' from leftover dough. "There's nothing wrong with rerolling, but I prefer to bake the leftover bits and pieces right alongside the biscuits," says Scott. "They bake up deliciously crusty and make a wonderful treat for the cook."

Step 16: Bake up your batch. Place the biscuits close together on a baking sheet, and bake them until they're crusty and golden brown. "Biscuits are best baked in the top third of the oven," says Scott. "It's the hottest part and makes the best crust."

Step 17: Add a bit of butter before serving. "Once the biscuits are done brush them immediately with melted butter to add irresistible flavor," says Scott.

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