When the weather is cold, I admit to being guilty of using the kitchen stove as an additional heat source. No, not in the super dangerous way of leaving the oven door open while I blast 400 degrees of power into the room and slowly poison myself with carbon monoxide (even typing that made me feel nervous), but in the super delicious way of throwing together a simple biscuit or muffin recipe so that I may not only boost the heat in the kitchen, but also perfume the entire house with the alluring scent of freshly baked treats.
Biscuits are some of my most favorite throw-together baked goods. They are super fast, I always have the basic ingredients on hand, and there are few things I can think of that are more comforting than fresh, hot biscuits taken and eaten straight from the oven. Why someone would eat biscuits from a tube, I’ll never know. A fresh biscuit require minimal work, and when it comes to flavor? Don’t even get me started. You can’t even compare the two.
These biscuits are made with what I consider to be my standard biscuit recipe, amended over the years from a Beth Hensperger recipe that I have tweaked and customized over the years into something that I now consider to be almost like a base recipe, a launching pad for whatever flavor combination you might be interested in trying out in a biscuit.
Previously, I have used this base recipe to make blueberry biscuits, a perfect snack or breakfast treat, but the last time I made biscuits, I was in the mood for something a bit more savory. I threw in what were quite literally some leftover items sitting on a kitchen counter (half a large shallot, some stray herbs), and in just a few minutes I was pulling a pan of delicious biscuits out of the oven. My kitchen was cozy and warm, the biscuits flaky and satisfying. Who needs to turn up the thermostat when you’ve got fresh biscuits?
Shallot and Herb Biscuits
Adapted from The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger
Because I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I have taken to almost exclusively using sour milk in any recipe that calls for buttermilk. To make sour milk, just add 1 heaping tablespoon of vinegar (cider vinegar or white vinegar) or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then top off with milk until you reach 1 cup. If you need two cups of sour milk, use twice as much vinegar or lemon juice, if you need less sour milk, adjust the other way. Allow the sour milk to stand for about 10 minutes before adding to a recipe. This substitution works like a dream in baked goods, but I would never use soured milk in a recipe that called for buttermilk as a main component (buttermilk ice cream, buttermilk dressing, etc.).
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons finely diced shallots
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme and rosemary), or 1 ½ teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, savory, or dill would all work well here)
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg
¾ cup cold buttermilk or sour milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Add the egg to the buttermilk or sour milk, and beat just to combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with no large chunks remaining. If the mixture appears too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow it to re-chill. Whisk the shallots, herbs, and pepper into the flour and butter mixture.
Add the egg and buttermilk mixture to the flour and butter mixture, stirring just to moisten the ingredients. The dough should appear shaggy, but not sticky.
Turn the dough out on to a well-floured surface. Knead gently about 6 times, or until the dough just holds together. Roll or pat the dough into a rectangle about ¾-inch thick. Do not overwork the dough or add too much additional flour at this point, or the biscuits will become quite tough. Cut the dough into rounds using a floured 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter (or the rim of a drinking glass that is approximately the same size). Try to push straight down when cutting, making sure not to twist the cutter, and cut the rounds as closely together as possible to minimize scraps. Gently roll together any scraps and cut into additional rounds.
Place the biscuits ½ inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the center of the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown. Serve hot or warm.