Jim Coleman | It takes a smart cookie to make a foolproof biscuit

Posted: August 16, 2007

Q: I made some lemon and basil biscuits by using a basic biscuit recipe and adding lemon zest and chopped basil from my garden.

The problem is that they came out tough and dry. Is it because I added the zest and basil?

Also, could you send me some foolproof biscuit recipes? Looking for help.

- Dana K.

A: Last part first: If you get a good recipe from a fool, does that make it a foolproof recipe? Just a question. As for your first question, I would think that adding lemon zest and basil to a good basic biscuit recipe would produce good lemon-basil biscuits. Of course, I'm assuming that you used no more than a tablespoon of zest and basil, and not a truckload.

There could be several reasons that your biscuits came out like hockey pucks:

_ The biscuit dough got overworked.

A good football coach doesn't work his team to death on Saturday, because they wouldn't be able to perform for Sunday's game. If you are using a stand mixer, don't process the dough more than a couple of seconds. If you are kneading by hand, perhaps just a few seconds more - not too much.

_ Too little liquid or too much of the dry ingredients will cause your biscuits to be dry.

_ Overcooking or too high of a temperature in your oven could also ruin your biscuits.

OK, now that you know what NOT to do, here are a few things you should do to become a big-time biscuit broker:

_ Stir or whisk your dry ingredients well (before adding them to the wet ingredients) so that the leavening agent, such as baking powder or baking soda, is well-distributed.

_ If using butter, make sure it's cold when you add it. Mix in butter only until the ingredients resemble coarse crumbs.

_ Stir in liquid ingredients until just moistened. Do not over-mix.

Dana, play around with the recipes I'm sharing and substitute freely to create your own foolproof recipes. Then you'll have proof that you can bake great biscuits - no fooling! *

CHIVE CHEESE BISCUITS

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold butter

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

2/3 cup milk

Lightly grease a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the cheese, chives and milk. Mix with a fork until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Don't over-mix.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 5 to 6 times. Roll the dough out to a 1-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter and place on baking sheet.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until biscuits are light brown. Makes 12 to 15 biscuits.

Optional: Brush the tops of the biscuits with 2 tablespoons melted butter after removing from the oven.

BLACKBERRY BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

cup shortening

1 egg

cup buttermilk

1/2 cup fresh or frozen blackberries

3 tablespoons melted butter

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Dash nutmeg

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and orange rind. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, lightly beat egg with fork. Add the buttermilk to the beaten egg, then add it to the flour mixture. Using a fork, stir until just moistened. Add the blackberries. Stir gently just to mix.

Turn dough out onto floured surface or cloth and gently knead 3 or 4 times. Roll out to half-inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter or into desired shapes. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden.

Mix butter with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and brush onto tops of biscuits as they come from the oven. Makes 12 to 15 biscuits.

SOUR CREAM CINNAMON BISCUITS

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold butter

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, soda and salt. Cut in the butter. Make a well in center. Add sour cream, 2 tablespoons milk and raisins, stirring till just combined (add a bit more milk, if needed).

On floured surface, gently knead 8-10 strokes. Pat dough into half-inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter, dipping in flour between cuts. Place on baking sheet.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Cool slightly on wire racks. Makes 12-15 biscuits.

Stir together confectioners' sugar and 2 teaspoons milk. Drizzle over biscuits. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon and sugar, if desired.

Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and is the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows - "A Chef's Table" on WHYY (91-FM) at noon Saturdays and "Flavors of America," on Channel 12 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and CN8 Monday through Friday, 4:30 p.m.

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