What I bake today defies description. The recipe says it’s a biscuit, but I’m not really sure whether it can be called just that. A quick bread that gets its puff power from a triple whammy of baking powder and baking soda and yeast, it ensures a texture that reaches celestial heights. Crispy edges give way to a pillow-y middle whose crumb all but threatens to collapse in its tenderness. Not as flaky as the biscuits I usually make, there’s a yeasty aroma similar to that of freshly-baked bread which makes me think that I’m eating a brioche but it’s much too soft. This baked good’s supple interior is so fragile that it crumbles under a smear of guava jam, so I dribble some honey over it instead, the viscous liquid glimmering in the morning sun.
So flummoxed am I at what to call this morning treat that I ask my Bin what he thinks. He takes two bites and is silent for a moment. Is it a cake? A cake-bread? A biscuit or a scone? I murmur, still trying to decide for myself. I know, he replies with finality. It’s a cross between a biscuit and a cake.
Although a post about biscuits is nowhere to be found on this site, I make them almost weekly. The difference between a biscuit and a scone is that a biscuit is usually devoid of any add-ins, and it has a lot less sugar than a scone. Biscuits are terrific with hot ham or fried chicken with lots of gravy, dropped over fruit cobblers, and eaten with chicken pastel (aka chicken pot pie). Scones on the other hand, are not generally served with meals but are characteristically an afternoon snack paired with a piping hot beverage of choice. And no, scones are NEVER hard and tough, despite what’s being proffered as scones in the local coffee shops.
A more in-depth post about the biscuits I bake is in the offing, but for now, content yourself with this one. This biscuit recipe is infinitely more tedious than any other biscuit recipe I’ve tried, but if you’re up for a weekend morning project, then try this one. Nancy Silverton is big on long waiting periods, and I have little patience for that so early in the morning. Okay, I’m an impatient person period so I’ve cut short those waiting times and freely adapted the following recipe to suit my taste and temperament. Have at it!
The Biscuit That Thinks It's A Cake
Adapted from Nancy Silverton's recipe, Michelle's Southern Sweet Biscuits from her book, Pastries from the La Brea Bakery
2 tsp instant or active dry yeast
½ tsp white sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk (or 2 tsp white vinegar + enough whole milk to equal 2/3 cup liquid)
¼ cup AP flour
1 cup cake flour
1 cup AP flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup cold butter, cubed
Fresh nutmeg (available at Spices & Flavours and at Indian groceries. You can also use dried nutmeg).
Melted butter for brushing tops of biscuits
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast, sugar, ¼ cup of AP flour, and then pour the buttermilk over all. Wait one minute to soften the yeast and then mix with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap or a plate and wait 15 (max 30) minutes, or until tiny bubbles appear on the surface. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (you can use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), combine the cake and AP flours, salt, leaveners, and process on low to mix. Add the butter all at once, pulsing a few times. Depending on how cold (or warm) your butter was, the dough will be pale yellow and pasty or mealy.
Transfer the dough to a large, deep bowl. Pour in the yeast mixture and stir lightly with a rubber spatula. If the dough seems too wet to be cut into rounds, then add some more AP flour, up to ½ cup more. The mixture will be very soft.
Flour your hands and turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper or a silicone mat. Gently but quickly knead the dough until it comes together, about 5-8 turns. Use a light hand or else you'll risk toughening your biscuits. Roll or pat the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or a 3-inch diameter cookie cutter, cut out circles. Cut as closely as possible and keep the trimmings intact.
Gather the scraps, patting and pressing them back together, and cut out the remaining biscuits. These second batch biscuits will not be as tender as your initial batch but they'll still be good nevertheless.
Lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter (this will also help them color nicely). Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon, followed by some white sugar. Muscovado sugar would also be a good addition or alternative, and if you have coarse or decorating sugar, then all the better.
Bake the biscuits for about 18-20 minutes, until lightly browned. They'll still be soft, but their edges will be set. Let rest for about 5 minutes, then serve immediately.