Biscuits to the Rescue

The biscuits are a slight variation on the ones in Baking.  I love them because they’re light and fluffy, buttery and slightly tangy, and because they give me yet another reason to play with my food:  these are completely handmade, they need no machines, but all your fingers will be delightfully butter-and-flour encrusted when you’re done.

There are just two little tips you should know before venturing into the world of biscuit-topped stews:

One: Don’t overwork the biscuit dough even though you will be sooooooo tempted to mix, knead, pat and play with it endlessly.  The dough is soft, sticky and fun to work with – a good thing and a problem, too.  Restrain yourself!  Mix and knead minimally and you’ll be rewarded with textbook-fluffy biscuits.

Two:  Reheat the stew on top of the stove while you’re mixing the dough for the biscuits.  You want the stew to be at eating temperature at the point at which you top it and slide the pan into the oven because the baking time will be short – just long enough to bake the biscuits.

Oh, one other neat thing:  If you haven’t got enough stew left over to handle the twelve biscuits the recipe makes, top it with as many biscuits as you want, then freeze the remaining biscuits, unbaked.  Put them on a lined baking sheet, freeze them, then pack them airtight.  The next time you want biscuits, just pull them from the freezer and pop them into the oven.  No defrosting needed; just bake the biscuits a few minutes longer.

HERBED BUTTERMILK BISCUITS (adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours)

Makes 12 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, crushed between your fingers

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

3/4 cup cold buttermilk, well shaken

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  If you are making these as biscuits rather than a biscuit topping, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, soda, sugar and thyme together in a bowl.  Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces with flour.  Quickly, working with your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.  You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces of every size in between – and that’s just right.

Pour the buttermilk over the ingredients, grab a fork and toss and gently turn the ingredients until you’ve got a nice soft dough.  Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gently kneading – 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough.  Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out until it is 1/2-inch thick.  Don’t worry if it isn’t completely even.
Use a knife to divide the dough into 12 pieces and transfer the pieces to the top of the bubbling hot stew.  (Or, if you’re baking them stewless, put the pieces of dough on the baking sheet.)

Slide the stew pot into the oven and bake until the biscuits are puffed and golden brown, 14 to 18 minutes.

Serve immediately.