Monday, April 1, 2013

Something From Nothing #11: Sweet Milk Biscuits

When brainstorming for these posts, I very often find myself looking at some sort of bread, because bread is the original something from nothing.  Throughout time civilizations have mixed together flour and water and produced bread which has sustained them in times of both poverty and prosperity.  It isn't called the staff of life for nothing.  Virtually every culture in the world has their signature type of bread and at some point in this series I'll probably make most of them.

Since this is pretty much the beginning of this series, I thought I'd start close to home with the favorite quick bread of my clan, biscuits.  I'm not taking about the English version that translates to cookie in American, I'm talking about the fluffy little pillowy clouds that have adorned the weekend breakfast table of my family for most of my life.  Slathered with butter and jam or drenched in gravy, no matter how you dress them you've got to love them.

Biscuits aren't just for breakfast either.  This is really one versatile dough.  Leave out the sugar and add herbs to it before dropping it in a bubbling broth, and you have dumplings.  Double the sugar and you'll have wonderful little shortcakes that beg to be topped with strawberries and whipped cream.  Top them with clotted cream and jam and you have the same tasty scones that famous English cream teas are built around.  You can even use this dough as a base for appetizers and sandwiches.

Well now that I have extolled the virtues of biscuit dough, I guess I'll shut up and give you the recipe.  So whether you are planning a memorable breakfast, a summertime dessert or an English tea, this is your go to recipe.  I hope you enjoy.

Sweet Milk Biscuits

You don't have to have buttermilk in the house to make delicious flaky biscuits and this version that uses plain old milk from the fridge proves it.  I'll let you in on an even bigger secret, you can also use reduced fat or low-fat milk, or even water to replace the whole milk and they will still be good.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional, but I love the flavor)
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons shortening (or lard if you have the courage)
1 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor.  Process a couple of seconds to combine.  Add the butter and shortening and process until the mixture resembles cornmeal.  With the processor add the milk and process until the dough pulls away from the sides. You can also do this step by hand with a pastry cutter or fork, it just takes more elbow grease and a little more time.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface.  Form a disk that is about 1 - 1/2" thick and cut with a floured biscuit cutter or small glass that has been dipped in flour.   Place side by side in a non-stick pan or lightly greased cast iron skillet.  Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Makes 8 large 3" biscuits

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