The principles of cooking are rooted in science, that much we cannot dispute. Yet there are a few ingredients out there that seem almost magical. Yes, we can dissect their physical properties and talk about how they accomplish different things when hot vs. when cold, how their proportion of fats, protein and sugars affect the results. Yada yada yada.
But there's something else that anyone who cooks cannot dispute: butter is magical. It just is. It makes pretty much any dish better. Got a bland pasta? Elevate it with butter. Want to unify fish and its seasonings? Add butter. Want flaky, amazing-tasting pie crust? Use butter.
Butter is amazing ingredient not only because of what it can do physically but because it makes just about anything taste better. It's that special combination of fat, liquid and milk solids--the dairy bits that get left behind--that make it an amazing thing. You gotta be careful with butter: it burns faster than oils, goes rancid if left unrefrigerated and it can pick up other flavors if not stored right. But treat butter right and it's one of the most powerful weapons in the kitchen arsenal.
Layering butter is a key method of forming flakiness in pastries. It's what makes pie crust and croissants flaky, and it can work in your Thanksgiving biscuits too.
The method here is similar to lamination: folding and rolling a butter-rich biscuit dough to multiply the layers of butter in the dough (with lamination additional butter is spread between the layers). As the dough is rolled out, the pieces of butter in the dough are elongated, and with each fold, the number of butter-layers doubles. Knowing that this could produce irresistibly flaky biscuits, I went in search of a recipe.
And I found this excellent one from Serious Eats by Melissa Sertich Velie. Here, the dough is shaped into a rectangle, then folded into thirds, rolled out again, and folded into third again. With each folding, the layers of butter in the dough are tripled. The results when baked are obvious, as the biscuits separate a bit on the side, revealing wonderful layers of buttery goodness.
These biscuits were incredibly good. The perfect vessel for enjoying your favorite berry jam, a little apple butter or just swiping through the streaks of gravy on your Thanksgiving plate.
Adapted from Super Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits recipe by Melissa Sertich Velie for Serious Eats
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
2 1/4 cups (13 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and kept refrigerated
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, cream and the egg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and toss the butter cubes until fully coated with flour. Working quickly, use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour to form marble-size pieces (alternatively, Velie suggests you could pulse the mixture 2 to 3 times in a food processor). Transfer butter-flour mixture to a large bowl.
3. Add the buttermilk mixture to the bowl and mix with a fork until just combined. The mixture will be quite clumpy (see photo above). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and, using your fingers, lightly press and fold the dough to bring it together into a large rectangle (avoid handling the dough roughly). Fold the dough into thirds (see photo above). Using a rolling pin, roll it out into roughly the size of the original rectangle, then fold it again. Roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thickness. Chill the dough again in the refrigerator for another 10 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 400 F.
6. Place the dough on the work surface. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut out biscuits as close together as possible and place on a baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Gather remaining scraps and cut out more biscuits (Velie recommends discarding any remaining scraps, but I just formed them into a final biscuit, albeit a bit misshapen).
7. Bake until the biscuits rise and turn a light golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscuits cool about 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool further. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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