Week 67: Angel Biscuits

Angel biscuits are made with three leavening agents: baking powder, baking soda and yeast. The unusual addition of yeast creates a texture that is a cross between a biscuit and a soft dinner roll. A perfect foil for Chef David Bull’s Sawmill Gravy.

This dough is very forgiving, and can be stored in the fridge for up to five days, or you can cut the dough into rounds, place them on a cookie sheet to freeze, then pop them in a zip lock and freeze until ready to bake however many you like.

Most recipes use a combination of shortening and butter, but biscuits were originally made with lard, and because of the low water content (compared to butter) it does produce a superior biscuit: fluffy, flakey and airy.* Don’t want to use lard or shortening? These biscuits were made with ghee which makes a really tasty substitute (but not necessarily any healthier*) Here’s a great video showing you how to make it at home.

  • 2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp yeast (add 1/2 tsp more if you’re planning on freezing the batch to cook later)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Parmesan Herb Biscuits: Mix in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, (save 1 Tbsp to sprinkle on top just before baking), 1-1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme and 3/4 tsp chopped fresh rosemary.

Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, sugar and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl), and whisk to combine.

  • 1/2 c fat: all lard, shortening, butter (or a combination: 1/4 lard or shortening + 1/4c butter) OR 1/2c ghee
  • 1 cup buttermilk at room temperature (make your own: put 1 Tbsp vinegar into a Pyrex measuring cup, then add room temperature milk to the one cup line)
  • Optional: Cream to brush on tops before baking
  1. Add the ghee/lard/butter (whatever combo you’re using) into the flour mixture in pieces.
  2. With the paddle attachment, mix (on low speed) until crumbly. (Or, use your hands to incorporate the butter into small pebbles, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.)
  3. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk, and continue mixing until the liquid is incorporated and you’ve got a smooth dough. OR, gently fold the until ingredients are moistened. Don’t overmix!
  4. Cover bowl and let rest 1 hour.
    • At this point, you can store this dough in the fridge for up to five days, to shape and bake at a later time.
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead 3 or 4 times.
  6. Gently press dough out into a circle, fold in half, then fold again. Push sides inward to shape into a circle.
  7. Gently roll to a 1/2″ thickness, then cut with a floured 2” cutter. Don’t twist the cutter when lifting it. Press the scraps together, pat then roll into a circle and continue to cut out biscuits until it’s all used up.
  8. Now you’ve got two options:
    • Bake now: Place rounds with sides touching in a 10-1/2′ cast-iron skillet lined with parchment paper,
    • OR Bake later: Place on a cookie sheet, spaced apart, and freeze. Remove to a zip-lock bag and freeze for up to two months.
  9. Remove biscuits from freezer and preheat the oven to 400.
  10. Brush tops with cream, then bake until golden, 16 to 20 minutes.
  11. Serve warm with Sawmill Gravy

*Why lard bakes a better biscuit:

  • Gluten strands in dough form strong bonds when baked, which makes a tougher crumb. When lard coats the gluten strands it weakens their structure and keeps them from bonding (fluffy),
  • Lard melts more slowly than butter, creating air and steam (flakey), and
  • The fat crystals in lard are larger than butter, so when it melts, tiny, airy holes develop (airy).

You shouldn’t be deterred from that ingredient (unless you’re vegetarian, of course). When Crisco shortening launched in 1911, it very quickly became the favorite with it’s netural taste and long shelf life — and it’s heavy marketing campaign that told consumers it’s healthier than lard. We now know that shortening’s partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) are associated with higher health risks than the saturated fats (such as lard) they were designed to replace. In addition, lard has 20% less saturated fat than butter, and is higher in monounsaturated fats, which are good for cardiovascular health fat. Just make sure you find a brand that is 100% non-hydronated.

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