Monday, May 29, 2017

The Best Angel Biscuits

We have all things light and airy on our minds. The sun is beginning to heat our skin and our thoughts are shifting toward flip flops and dinners on the grill and long afternoons spent at the lake. While some are dusting off salad recipes for the warmer days ahead, others of us are taking the term “light and airy” in a whole different direction: BISCUITS.

I mean.

Nothing speaks of bikinis and beaches better than biscuits, am I right? This recipe is just plain old, down home comfort food, and there are times that call for lightness of heart, NOT food.

Biscuits were a part of my childhood. We were by no means southern. In fact, we grew up just about as far away from the south as one could possibly get and still be considered a part of the lower 48. But that didn’t stop us. My mama was an excellent cook and I owe a lot of my love of food to the introductory course she gave me simply by serving delicious food. She had a rotation of regular dinner menus that came down the line every month or so. One of these was her oven fried chicken recipe. I recall my dad’s smile beaming especially bright when he would arrive home from work to the smell of her delicious chicken bubbling in the oven and the sound of the smoke alarm bellowing in the air (the thing was and still is hopeless – you can’t even boil water without it thinking the house is burning down).  

Mom’s famous fried chicken was always served with biscuits alongside. Most everything she made for us, she prepared from scratch. But there were a few regulars – usually a bread or muffin accompaniment that she either purchased or made from a mix. Bisquick was her jam (and thankfully it was ours too). With four kids that she homeschooled full time, something had to give somewhere and biscuits from the box was where it was at back then. Reflecting on this fact now, I’m grateful for the balance she demonstrated for me by doing so. It was obvious that she valued homemade meal. Yet she wasn’t a superhero (though admittedly she came close). Knowing that my mother used a mix here and there while she was raising littles helps me have grace for myself when I do the same for the sake of my sanity.

On Fried Chicken Night growing up, if I could get to the kitchen early enough, I got to do the honors with the blue and white box. My mom would let me measure the Bisquick, add the wet ingredients and roll out the dough. We had a certain plastic cup that I used to cut the biscuits to size just so. If I was lucky, there would be a small lump of dough leftover at the end, not quite large enough to form one final biscuit. I’d look toward my mom expectantly and she would give me a subtle nod. I would pop the raw dough in my mouth eagerly. It didn’t taste good; it didn’t taste bad. It just was. But being the one there to eat it always made me feel special somehow.

My memories of this meal are so fond that of course I had to recreate my own variations for my little family. Years ago, I found a favorite oven-fried chicken recipe that my husband and I both really enjoy that you can read about here. Next on my list was to come up with a flaky, airy, from-scratch biscuit recipe that didn’t include the dreaded: vegetable shortening (one ingredient that I simply cannot let touch my kids’ lips in good conscious). I’m happy to report that I have finally found that recipe that brings me one step closer to rounding out my meal. The secret ingredient that makes these biscuits so airy is yeast, of all things, which is why they are called “angel” biscuits (I learned that this is a thing, apparently).

Throughout my years of cooking, I have learned some tips and tricks from those who have gone before that have helped ease my processes. One such trick is to freeze sticks of butter for recipes like scones or doughs or biscuits (anything that calls for you to “cut in butter”). Once the butter is cold, it can be easily grated with a cheese grater which breaks the butter into the small pieces called for without all the “cutting in.” When you add the grated butter to the dry ingredients - voila – “pea-sized” lumps form almost magically all on their own (thanks Katrina for this one – now I have no excuse NOT to make scones ALL THE TIME). I now store boxes of butter in the freezer for this soul purpose - so I can always make delicious biscuits or scones on a whim, without having to wait 15 impatient minutes for my butter to harden in the freezer. (But if you must know, you CAN actually grate fridge-temperature butter too. It is titch more challenging but it works in a pinch if you absolutely can’t wait 15 minutes like I don’t seem to be able to).

For the most part I think this recipe is self-explanatory. I would only give you a couple of cautionary notes: making sure you combine the yeast with WARM water – not hot, not cold, warm. When you stick your finger under the running faucet, it should feel warmer to you than room air but you shouldn’t have the urge to pull your finger back from under the flow. This is an indicator that the water is too hot. “Just right” warm water ensures that the yeast has what it needs to “do it’s thing” without killing it.

The second cautionary tidbit I would offer you is this: knead the dough as little as possible. Your human nature will try to convince you to work that stuff more than you should. DON’T! It will feel insufficient but, once the dough is mixed, only knead it 5 times. It will maintain it’s airiness this way.
So there you have it! My “light and airy” recipe to get you all prepped for beach season. ;) Serve the finished biscuits with butter and jam. And definitely a proud smile. The diners around your table are sure to be impressed.

The Best Angel Biscuits
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or grated
2 cups low-fat buttermilk

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water (water should feel warm compared to room air but not hot). Let stand for 5 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. It should begin to bubble some (this shows that your yeast is still active).

While you wait, combine dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl. Cut in butter with two knives or a pastry blender until a lumpy meal begins to form. (Alternatively, place butter in the freezer for 10-15 minutes and then grate using cheese grater before mixing into dry ingredients). Add bubbly yeast mixture and buttermilk to flour mixture and stir just until moist. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Heavily flour a counter top or marble pastry board and turn dough out on in and knead about 5 times (kneading it more will result in a less airy biscuit). Roll dough out until ½-inch thick. Using a 2 ½-inch circular cookie cutter or a cup with a diameter about the same width (I use my mason jar glasses), cut dough into circles and place on greased baking sheet. Lump together remaining dough scraps and roll out again until all the biscuits have been cut. Bake for 12 minutes or until desired degree of golden brown color has been achieved. Serve with butter and jam for breakfast or dinner.

Makes 2 dozen biscuits

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posted by kelsie