Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chive Biscuits

As much as I appreciate the pastries, I tend to crave savory foods in the morning. And these biscuits are savory in all senses of the word. In the biscuit universe, there are two main categories: rolled and dropped. Rolled biscuits are a drier dough, which can be, uh, rolled. They are cut out, like scones, either in wedges from a chubby disc, or from a slab of dough using round biscuit cutters. Of course, you can use a glass for this purpose. The cutters do have an function that they achieve better than glasses (other than cluttering up your kitchen drawers): the sharp edges cut through the dough without fusing together the edges of the layers the way a blunt-lipped drinking glass will, and thus your biscuits will bake up higher, fluffier, and flakier. And, as an added bonus, you can buy the biscuit cutters with adorable scalloped edges, upping your brunch's cuteness factor. That said, this distinction between glass-cut and cutter-cut biscuits isn't huge enough to make a difference to the casual biscuit eater (like myself).

On the other side, there are drop biscuits like these. Drop biscuits involve a much wetter dough, that you couldn't cut if you wanted to. It occupies that gloppy space between dough and batter. To shape these, most recipes have you plop the dough onto a greased cookie sheet using two spoons. In this variation, you scoop the dough into a flour-lined dish to dredge the doughballs with a full floury coating, and then plop them next to each other in a cake pan (or, in my case, cast-iron skillet). The biscuits expand to touch each other, but the floury coating allows you to pull them apart somewhat easily.

One item unites both variations: buttermilk. Well, I suppose butter, flour, salt, and leavening do as well. But the buttermilk seems most important. In middle school home ec, I was taught to use sourmilk (milk that's sat for a few minutes with a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar) as a buttermilk replacement. For the most part it works, giving the baked goods moistness, and providing the necessary acidity to activate the baking soda. But in biscuits like these, I'd say it's worth going for the real thing. The dough is so simple that the tangy flavor really comes through. Plus leftover buttermilk gives you the excuse to bake all sorts of deliciousness.

If these biscuits were better for you, I'd recommend cooking up a double batch, and throwing extras in the freezer to toast for brunch throughout the week. Then again, these biscuits aren't health nightmares: only half a stick of butter (with a few extra spoonfuls drizzled on top), and they can be made with low-fat buttermilk. Of course, their not-that-bad-for-you cred might have been compromised by the fact that we ate them piled with eggs that had been baked on a bed of spinach, mushrooms, and heavy cream. Which I want all over again right now.

Chive Biscuits
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes 12 biscuits (except in my case it made 11)

To make dough:
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp butter, cut in eighths
~3 Tbsp snipped chives
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk

To finish biscuits:
3/4 cup flour, in a bowl
2 Tbsp butter, melted

preheat oven to 500. Butter a 9" baking dish or cast-iron skillet.

Put the first 5 ingredients (the dries) into a food processor, and pulse for a minute until mixed. Sprinkle the cubes of butter in, and pulse a few times until they're cut into lumps no larger than peas. If you don't have a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl, and then cut the butter in using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your hands. Mix in chives. If you're using a food processor, transfer the mixture to a bowl, and pour in the buttermilk, mixing the lumpy mixture until it's just incorporated. You can do this step in the food processor, but it will result in your butter getting cut in too much with the flour, making your biscuits less flaky. Who wants that?

Taking a quarter cup measure, scoop up the biscuit dough, and use your finger or a spoon to plop it out into your bowl of flour. When you've got as many as will fit, pick them up and roll them until they're covered with flour, shake off the excess, and place into your pan. Place about 2/3 of the biscuits in a ring around the outside, with the remaining third in the center. Repeat with all the dough, adding more flour to the bowl as needed. When the biscuits have all been shaped, drizzle the melted butter over the top. Place in oven, bake 5 minutes, and reduce heat to 450. Bake an additional 15 minutes or so, until nicely browned. Remove, cool in pan for 2 minutes, and then tip out into a towel-lined bowl, break apart, and serve.


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