Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 2009) is a 2010 James Beard book awards finalist in the Baking and Dessert Baking category. For a list of all the finalists check out the Project Foodie James Beard Finalists' Guide.
Win a copy of Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day! - details
Over the past year I've had a love affair with bread making and Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day is one of the books that has helped fuel that love affair. In fact, I'll go so far as to announce that this is my favorite of the James Beard nominated cookbooks.
Photo by Leo Gong © 2009
Why you ask? Other than that it's a bread book, the answer is because this book appeals no matter what your skill level. Whether the mere thought of using yeast terrifies you or if you regularly make bread, I'm confidant you'll learn from this book. Reinhart also appeals to both those that want no-knead bread and those that really enjoy getting their hands in the dough (the fun part of bread making if you ask me).
I've shared a bread recipe from this book before so today I've chosen to share Reinhart's "Best Biscuits Ever" recipe. Not only does this recipe show the variety of bread products that this book offers, but this recipe is also great example of the details that Reinhart provides. It's a bit long, but read it and you'll feel as though Reinhart is standing next to you teaching you how to make these biscuits. In the book, a series of photos also guides you through the process ensuring that you really will make the best biscuits ever.
Win a copy of Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day! - details
The Best Biscuits Ever
Reprinted with permission from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day: Fast and Easy Recipes for World-Class Breads by Peter Reinhart, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Makes 12 to 18 biscuits, or more for small biscuits
I've set myself up by staking a claim to the best biscuits ever. But when I made these biscuits, I was so astonished by their flavor and texture that I decided there couldn't possibly be a more perfect biscuit-at least not any that I've ever tasted. Be forewarned, a generous amount of butter is a key ingredient here, so these biscuits are not for those who are squeamish about fat! That said, if you find these biscuits to be too rich, feel free to use low-fat buttermilk instead of cream for the liquid. Some people insist that only shortening has enough pure fat in it to make a flaky biscuit. While lard and shortening do contain 100 percent fat to butter's mere 85 percent, there's nothing to match butter when it comes to flavor. Also, I find that biscuits made with shortening sometimes have a waxy aftertaste. If you insist on using shortening, chill it for 1 hour before cutting it into the dough, and reduce the amount by about 15 percent, to 7 tablespoons (3.5 oz / 99 g).
I have heard it said that there are two types of people in the world, those who like tender biscuits and those who like flaky biscuits. (I'm usually in the flaky camp.) In this recipe, I've replaced the traditional buttermilk with cream, which essentially makes this both a cream biscuit (and therefore tender) and a flaky biscuit. If you wonder how I arrived at this idea, it was one of those aha/duh moments, in this case brought about because I had forgotten to buy buttermilk. Discovering that I had some heavy cream on hand, I realized that there was no rule prohibiting me from trying to bring the best of both worlds together.
I learned a new trick for incorporating the butter into the flour from a few of my excellent recipe testers: Freeze the butter, then use the large holes on a cheese grater to grate it directly into the dry ingredients (or use the grater attachment on a food processor, with the dry ingredients in the bowl below). Not only does this method save time, but it creates the perfect size butter pieces for the biscuits. You can use this method when making pie dough too!
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28.5 g) white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice
- 1 cup (8 oz / 227 g) cold heavy cream
- 1/2 cup (4 oz / 113 g) cold unsalted butter
- 1 cup (4.5 oz / 128 g) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (3.5 oz / 99 g) pastry flour (if you do not have pastry flour, use all-purpose flour)
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14 g) sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (0.5 oz / 14 g) baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon (0.13 oz / 3.5 g) salt, or 3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Do Ahead: Stir the vinegar into the cream to acidify it, then refrigerate it to keep it cold. Place the butter in the freezer, for at least 30 minutes, to harden.
Whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl.
Place a cheese grater in or over the bowl of dry ingredients. Remove the butter from the freezer, unwrap it, and grate it through the large holes into the dry ingredients, tossing the butter threads in the flour mixture as you grate to distribute them. (An alternative method is to place the butter on a cutting board, and dust it and the work surface with flour. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch slices. Dust the slices with flour, stack a few of them up, and cut them into 1/4-inch strips, then rotate the stack a quarter turn and cut the strips into 1/4-inch cubes. It's okay if the butter is smaller, such as pea-size. Toss the floured butter bits into the dry ingredients and continue cutting all of the butter in the same manner and adding it to the flour mixture. You can see why I like the grater method better.)
Use your fingertips to separate and distribute the butter pieces evenly, breaking up any clumps but not working the butter so much that it disappears or melts into the flour. Add the cream mixture and stir with a large spoon until all of the flour is hydrated and the dough forms a coarse ball. Add a tiny bit more cream if necessary to bring the dough together.
Transfer the dough to a generously floured work surface, then dust the top of the dough with flour. Working with floured hands, use your palms to press the dough into a rectangle or square about 3/4 inch thick. Use a metal pastry scraper to lift the dough and dust more flour underneath. Dust the top of the dough with flour as well, then roll it out into a rectangle or square about 1/2 inch thick. Then, using the pastry scraper to help lift the dough, fold it over on itself in three sections as if folding a letter.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees, then once again lift the dough and dust more flour underneath. Dust the top with flour as well, then once again roll it out into a square or rectangle about 1/2 inch thick and fold into thirds. Give the dough another quarter turn and repeat this procedure again. Then, repeat one final time (four roll-outs in all).
After the fourth folding, dust under and on top of the dough one final time, then roll the dough out to just under 1/2 inch thick, in either a rectangle (for triangle- or diamond-shaped biscuits) or an oval (for round biscuits). Use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface.
Cut the biscuits with a floured metal pastry scraper or pizza cutter, or with a floured biscuit cutter for rounds; a 2-inch biscuit cutter will yield 20 to 24 small biscuits. Transfer the biscuits to an ungreased sheet pan (lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat if you like), placing them about 1/2 inch apart.
Let the cut biscuits rest for 15 to 30 minutes before baking to relax the gluten; this will create a more even rise (even better, if you have room, place the pan of biscuits in the refrigerator to chill). If you'd like to bake the biscuits later, see the sidebar on page 180 for make-ahead options.
About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C).
Transfer the biscuits to the oven and lower the oven temperature to 450°F (232°C), or 425°F (218°C) for a convection oven. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 6 to 10 minutes, until both the tops and the bottoms of the biscuits are a rich golden brown; the baking time will be shorter in a convection oven. The biscuits should rise about 11/2 times in height.
Place the pan on a wire rack, leaving the biscuits to cool on the hot pan for at least 3 minutes before serving. The biscuits will stay warm for about 20 minutes.
These biscuits are perfect without the addition of other ingredients, but it can be fun to enhance them with sweet or savory flavors. Here are four variations. Feel free to create your own versions, using these as examples.
To make cheese biscuits, grate 8 ounces (227 g) of Cheddar or any medium-soft cheese you like, such as Gruyère, Gouda, or Provolone. This will yield about 2 cups of cheese. Each time you fold the dough, sprinkle one-fourth of the cheese over the surface before folding it. This may look like a lot of cheese, but it will melt and almost disappear into the biscuits when you bake them.
To make savory biscuits, layer caramelized onions into the biscuits when you fold them. You'll need to cook the onions well in advance, because it's important that they be cool when you layer them; otherwise, they'll cause the butter in the dough to melt, which will damage the texture of the baked biscuit. To make the onions, slice 2 large white or yellow onions into thin strips. Sauté them over medium heat in 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14 g) of vegetable oil until very soft and translucent. Add 2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28.5 g) of sugar and, optionally, 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14 g) of balsamic vinegar, and continue cooking and stirring until the pan juices thicken into a honeylike syrup and the onions have the consistency of marmalade. This will take 15 to 20 minutes altogether.
To make other savory variations, read on. Seasoned biscuits make a nice accompaniment to eggs, especially if made with fresh herbs. You can use any combination of fresh basil, parsley, dill, chervil, cilantro, or whatever herbs you like. Use about 3/4 cup of fresh herbs, either minced or cut into thin strips. Be careful when using strong herbs or spices, such as rosemary, oregano, sage, anise, fennel, cumin, chili powder, and the like, as they can easily overpower the biscuits. Use these stronger seasonings in moderation and in combination with milder herbs like parsley. Ground pepper is always an option; just 1/4 teaspoon will provide a surprisingly strong kick. Dried herbs will also work, but don't use more than 1/4 cup; and again, use primarily mild herbs like parsley, chervil, and basil.
To make sweet variations, keep in mind that there is very little difference between a biscuit and a scone, so consider sweet biscuits to be flaky, tender scones and try adding dried fruits such as currants, raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, apricots, or blueberries, as well as candied ginger (in moderation). Cut larger dried fruit into small bits. Add 1 cup (6 oz) of dried fruit (or more, if you like) in any combination, when you add the cream. Just don't use fresh fruit or berries, as they would make the biscuits soggy and destroy the flakiness.
Keys to a Successful Flaky Biscuit
- * The single most important technique is to use very cold butter and liquid. Some biscuit makers go so far as to chill the flour, but this isn't necessary if the butter and cream are cold. Using cold ingredients ensures that the butter stays in bits and pieces, which shortens the gluten strands (thus the term shortening, used to describe all solid fats, including butter and margarine). Using bits of cold butter creates weak points in the dough that flake off when you take a bite.
- * Work quickly to keep the dough cold, but don't overwork the dough. Gluten is what makes dough tough, and the more you mix the dough, the more organized the gluten strands become. As a general rule of thumb, mix only as long as needed to get the job done. As every great biscuit maker will attest, it's all in the touch
- * The folding technique described in the recipe is similar to the lamination method known as blitz. It creates many thin layers of dough and fat, causing the biscuits to puff up and open like an accordion, creating maximum flakiness.
- * The oven must be hot in order to trap the butter inside the biscuit and increase the puffing quality. In a cooler oven, below 450°F (232°C), some of the butter might run out onto the pan, so preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C), then lower the heat to 450°F (232°C) as soon as you put the biscuits in to bake. (If you preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C), it will drop to below 400°F (204°C) when you open the door.)
- * Chilling the biscuits before baking them not only relaxes the gluten, it also minimizes the amount of butter that may run out of the biscuits as they bake.
The best way to make biscuits is to bake them 15 to 30 minutes after the dough is cut, placed on the pan, and briefly chilled. However, when this isn't always practical, it's better to bake the biscuits when you plan to eat them rather than bake them in advance and try to warm them up later. So here are three make-ahead options:
Freeze: Cut and pan the biscuits but don't bake them. Instead, completely wrap the pan (under and around the pan) in plastic wrap or use a food-grade plastic bag. If you wrap it well, you can freeze the pan of unbaked biscuits for up to 1 month. Remove the pan from the freezer at least 3 hours before you plan to bake the biscuits so they can thaw. Don't bake them while they're still frozen or they won't rise or bake evenly. If freezer space is an issue, you can also wrap individual biscuits in plastic wrap, stack them up, and freeze them.
Refrigerate: Wrap the pan or individual biscuits as described above, but instead of freezing, refrigerate them. This is especially practical if you plan to bake the biscuits within 3 days. For even baking, remove the biscuits from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking to remove some of the chill.
Parbake: Bake the biscuits as described in the recipe, but only until slightly golden on the tops and bottoms-4 to 5 minutes less than the full baking time. Remove the pan from the oven and cool the biscuits thoroughly before wrapping them individually or wrapping the entire pan and freezing. When you want to finish baking them, preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C) and place the frozen biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops and bottoms of the biscuits are golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before serving; this allows the heat to reach the center, warming but not drying out the biscuit.
Win a copy of Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day
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