I have biscuits on my mind. My friend Matt Gordon just closed his two restaurants in San Diego. Among the many pleasures of dining there my guess is that for most of Matt’s devotees, it will be his biscuits that are missed the most. I say that because at the closing meal last week, which was packed, almost everyone seemed to have ordered the biscuits.

Now you may think you’ve got the best biscuit recipe ever. Maybe it came to you from your grandma or your mom or great auntie. I’m sure it’s divine but why wouldn’t you want another one that is so good that people were standing at the bar several people deep drinking cocktails and scarfing down biscuits. Yeah, they’re that good–and your clients deserve the best.

So, what do you know about biscuits? We may think of biscuits as an almost scone-like pastry, but in fact the word  biscuit covers a range of flour-based edibles. According to The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, they are generally small in size, thin, and have a crisp texture. But that mostly refers to the British context, where biscuit can equal cookie or cracker. It didn’t account for North America’s meaning that is more like a scone. The actual name biscuit is derived from the Latin panis biscoctus, meaning “bread twice cooked.” Think hard, crumbly rusks or biscotti. The idea was to create a long-lasting product.

Today, you’ll find all sorts of baked goods under the biscuit umbrella, from snickerdoodles and sable cookies to British digestives and Garibaldis to Spanish tostadas. Our North American biscuits remain most closely related to soft, quickly baked, leavened British scones. Yet we use the biscuit name.

Matt alternately uses cream and buttermilk as the liquid. You can interchange them, but if you play to make the dough in advance, you should use cream. Matt says he found that the buttermilk version of the dough will turn a bit gray. It won’t affect the taste, but it’s not very attractive.

Now if you’re actually a biscuit-making novice, no worries. Biscuit recipes are very forgiving so long as you get the basics right. One of the first rules you must follow is to keep the butter cold and work the dough as little as possible to keep the butter from melting.

Cut the butter into small pieces to make sure it’s evenly dispersed and, as the mixture comes together, can form small, pea-sized pieces. And don’t use a food processor for this. Either mix it by hand or use a stand mixer on the lowest speed.

Another tip is to slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients mixture. Start with the smaller amount. If you’re using a stand mixer, it’s okay to stop while you still have some dry ingredients at the bottom of the mixing bowl. You’ll keep from over mixing and can better judge how much more liquid to add by finishing by hand.

You should still have pieces of butter visible in the dough, like you do when making pie. That’s what creates the layers. But, unlike pie dough, biscuit dough doesn’t need to rest. Just keep it cold and roll it out. You can use a rolling pin, but Matt pats it down and shapes it by hand with his fingertips. And, because restaurants are all about preventing waste, he cuts his biscuits into squares. Another tip he has is to brush the formed dough with an egg wash before separating the biscuits.

Say, you’re catering a party and want to get some of your dishes prepped in advance. Like Matt’s now former  staff you can prep all the dry ingredients except the herbs for a batch and bag it, keeping the mix chilled until you’re ready to bake. Then add the herbs and liquid to mix, shape, and bake. You can also make a batch of biscuits ahead of serving them and then reheat them.

Cheese and Chive Biscuits
From Matt Gordon
Yield: About 15 biscuits

1 ½ cups pastry flour
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 1/2  sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ cups loosely packed white cheddar, grated
¾ cup loosely packed fontina cheese, grated
1/8 cup minced chives
1 ¼  to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Egg white from 1 egg (optional)

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add butter, chives, and cheeses, and mix with a pastry knife or the paddle attachment of a mixer on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate the butter. There should still be small pea-size chunks of butter; this will make the biscuit flaky.  At this point you can store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a day or two if necessary.

Slowly add the buttermilk, starting with 1 ¼ cups and fold together for about 10 seconds. Move the ingredients around by hand and pour the remaining ½ cup of buttermilk into the bottom of the bowl to make sure the moisture gets there. Mix again for just a few seconds. Add slightly more buttermilk if the dough hasn’t pulled together. Do not over mix dough.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times only.  Handle the dough as sparingly as possible to keep the butter from melting. Using your fingertips, flatten dough out to about ¾ -inch thick and brush the top with egg whites (optional). Cut in desired shape.  Brush the top with egg whites (optional).

Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake at 425 degrees in the middle of the oven for 17 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. (If you have a convection oven bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes.)  You can crack a biscuit open to make sure it is cooked inside. If it is not, lower heat to 250 and check again in a couple of minutes. You can bake these ahead of when you plan to serve them and reheat before serving.

Orange Honey Butter

½ pound unsalted butter
¾ teaspoon grated orange zest
½ tablespoon honey
¼ tablespoon kosher salt
¼ tablespoon garlic, chopped

Whip butter in mixer for 10 minutes until light and airy. Add remaining ingredients and whip for another 3 minutes.  Use immediately.  Store in refrigerator but let it warm up slightly before using.

Do you ever make biscuits for clients? What do you serve with them?

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