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Yeasted Buttermilk Biscuits

22 Apr

In the past ten years, I can recall a total of one single Easter that did not suffer a torrential downpour of spring rain.  Spring (and autumn…and winter) puts forth a formidable battle in the Pacific Northwest, challenging trees and flowers to bloom, then pounding them with the type of rain that can oftentimes only be described as being vaguely menacing.  Easter egg hunts will be completed by children wearing heavy raingear, and casual brunches will be held indoors while a fireplace roars with every effort to try and stave off the soggy chill of the morning.

The upside to steeling oneself for a brisk and sodden Easter is the still welcome addition of piping hot baked goods.  It’s not that warm days do not allow for steaming hot treats that come straight from the oven, but it’s not difficult to notice that such things are greeted with a higher level of affection when presented on a chilly, wet day.  The only downside to making a baking commitment on Easter morning is the inevitable time crunch that will inhibit your productivity and, unfortunately, raise your crabbiness level to DEFCON 5.  Because the Easter Bunny waits for no one.

To remedy this problem, I have come up with the ridiculously simple time saving solution of merely spending the previous evening completing 50% of what needs to be done.  If it sounds totally over simplified, it’s because it is.  You are not, collectively, doing any less work, but you are managing your time in a way that makes it feel like you are getting away with something.  You can crack your eggs into a big bowl and leave them covered in the refrigerator to no ill effect.  You can slice bread for French toast, chop vegetables for a frittata, measure out dry and wet ingredients for pancakes or waffles, or you can whip up a batch of what has become my most favorite addition to any brunch or breakfast: yeasted buttermilk biscuits.

Allowed to sit in the refrigerator overnight, the dough for these biscuits has time to develop a fantastically light texture and flavor.  The mixing of the dough is simple to the point of being almost unbelievable, and the next morning’s work involves nothing more than a couple of passes kneading the dough, a quick roll and cut (assisted, in my case, by an eager preschooler), then a short rise while the oven preheats.  15 minutes in the oven later, you’ve got rich, flaky biscuits that are just waiting to be paired up with some tart jam or a selection of delicious flavored butters.

If you are in the presence of an Easter ham, word has it that these biscuits are amenable to being utilized as a soft and pillowy vehicle for ham consumption.  Brought while still warm to a recent to a potluck, these biscuits were received with great joy.  They were eaten outside, in a newly planted garden, while a soft rain fell.  An experience joining belly-warming sustenance with the damp shiver of the season, it was the perfect signifier of spring’s arrival in the Pacific Northwest.

Yeasted Buttermilk Biscuits

From that old standby, James McNair’s Breakfast 

It’s worth noting that this dough keeps in the refrigerator for several days.  This means that you can keep a batch in the fridge, then cut off, roll, and bake however much you want, whenever you want.  This realization–that I could bake fresh yeasted buttermilk biscuits every morning, several days in a row–was nothing short of magical for me.

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons, or 1/4 ounce) quick-rising active dry yeast

5 tablespoons warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees F)

5 cups all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup canola or other high-quality vegetable oil

2 cups buttermilk

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water, stir to dissolve, and let stand until soft and foamy, about 5 minutes.  (Discard the mixture and start over with a fresh batch of yeast if bubbles have not formed in 5 minutes.)

In a bowl or food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt.  Cut the oil into the mixture with a pastry blender or the steel blade of the food processor until the mixture is the texture of coarse cornmeal.  If using a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl (I recommend a very large bowl, because this mixture will expand a great deal more than you think).  Pour in the buttermilk and softened yeast.  Stir the mixture quickly to combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight.

Lightly grease baking sheets, or line with parchment paper, and set aside.

Form the risen dough into a ball and turn out onto a generously floured surface.  Knead lightly and quickly, about 1 minute.  Roll out with a lightly flour rolling pin to about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with a floured 2 1/2 round cutter and place barely touching on the prepared sheets.  Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise just until puffy, 20 to 30 minutes.

While the biscuits are rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.  I bake two sheets of biscuits at a time, placing one sheet on the upper-middle shelf and one on the lower-middle shelf, then swapping the two sheets’ positions halfway through baking.

Makes about 48 biscuits.

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