The answer to the simple question of ‘what is a biscuit?’ will reveal a lot about a person, well actually mainly just are they from the UK or USA. To me a biscuit is personified by the classic shortbread, a sweet crumbly treat found in households across the UK but to an American a biscuit is an entirely different thing. An American biscuit has more in common with a scone than its British namesake, its made from similar ingredients in a similar manner, with a few exceptions. Why the similar name? No idea, sure I could google it but really all I care about is making and eating them, both types! The British biscuit runs in my veins (or is that sugar?) but the American biscuit is, or was, a mystery until very recently when I became more than a little bit smitten.
I have recently finished a big project with the guys behind the magazine Bake From Scratch (a LOT more about that in a few months, but in the meantime go and subscribe, its a fabulous baking magazine and the team that make it are the best). After spending just over a week with the team it came to light that I had never tried an american biscuit and they felt that was unacceptable so we turned on the oven and whipped up a batch. Suffice to say I am hooked, they're buttery, tender, with a fare dose of salt, they're addictive, plain and simple! With the team flying home the day after and with me forgetting to jot the recipe down, I decided to try and master the recipe. The version I initially tried was the version most like British scones, in method at least, and while they were absolutely fabulous I wanted to try the flaky version, where the dough is laminated before cutting and baking, resulting in a fabulous flaky but still tender biscuit.
After countless batches I settled on a method and after tweaking the recipe a couple times I finally have a recipe that I am happy with, so much so they were instantly turned into breakfast sandwiches with bacon, egg and cheese. Next? Making a sausage gravy!
Before we get to the recipe just a quick note about ingredients. It was made clear to me that the best biscuits are generally made with White Lily, a bleached, light flour that has a protein content of 8g per 100g and is made from a soft wheat which supposedly makes for extremely light biscuits. Now of course that flour isn't available in the UK so I tried to figure out what the alternative would be and then I remembered Supreme Sponge Flour. Mcdougals has a version, available in most supermarkets, as does Waitrose, which I suspect is the same flour in own brand packaging. What makes it similar to White Lily is that it’s a self raising flour made from soft wheat. It is then sieved to a high degree to make a very fine, light flour. Its not quite as low in protein as White Lily, it has 9.3g, but it’s close enough that I was happy. Thankfully for this Brit’s idea of what a biscuit should taste like it works pretty damn well, although I’ll need to make them for some Americans to be sure.
125g salted butter, diced and frozen, plus a little extra for glazing
350g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
To make the biscuits line a baking tray with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 250C (230C fan).
Remove the butter from the freezer and tip into a large bowl with the flour and baking soda, tossing together until the butter is coated in flour. Using a pastry blender or a round edged knife cut the butter into the flour until it is in pea-sized pieces. Switching to your fingers rub the butter in a little more, until you have some butter in small pieces, some in little flakes and some rubbed in until fine. Place the bowl into the freezer for 15 minutes to chill the butter. These chilling steps are important as if the butter is warm it will soften too much and blend fully into the dough which means the biscuits will be dense rather than light and flaky.
Remove the bowl from the freezer and drizzle in the buttermilk a little at a time. Use a knife or fork to stir the buttermilk into the flour mixture, adding more until the dough forms into moist clumps. Once the dough has just about come together with the fork switch to your hands and finish bringing the dough together (I switch as I find if you use the fork for the entire mixing you end up mixing a little too much to bring the dough together, overworking the dough). Lightly flour the work surface and tip out the dough. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll into a rectangle. Don't worry too much about the exact size but something in the zone of 20cmx50cm is what you want to aim for. Fold into thirds like a letter and turn through 90 degrees and repeat the rolling and folding a second time. Roll the dough out to about 1 inch thick and, using a cookie cutter dipped in flour, cut into rounds about 3 inches wide, you will need to bring the scraps together to get the last two of the biscuits, try and do this with the least amount of work possible and these last two are already going to slightly tougher than there siblings . Place the biscuits onto the prepared baking tray and pop into the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the biscuits from the freezer and brush the tops with melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops are a light golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving warm.
Biscuits, like scones, are best served extremely fresh but can be refreshed by baking in a low oven for about 10 minutes to warm though.