Ah biscuits. Such a basic part of American cuisine, so humble, and yet so complex. The perfect biscuit is light but rich, flaky yet sturdy, the marriage of little more than flour and fat. Ah, but the road to that marriage can sometimes be bumpy!
I've been making biscuits for many years, but only recently have I been achieving the results that I really wanted. The recipe I use is from the book James McNair's Favorites, which is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, and possibly the most vegan-friendly omni cookbook out there. But I digress.
Ok- this is what you need in your arsenal for perfect biscuits: good quality flour (I really can't justify using anything other than King Arthur Flour), some primo vegan non-hydrogenated shortening (I use Earth Balance sticks), a pastry cutter (fine, fine, I've used forks before), a nicely pre-heated oven, and tons of patience and practice. Oh and last but not least, you need a ridiculously sharp biscuit cutter.
Before I move on to McNair's recipe (with a few veganizing tips!), here is what he has to say:
As a youngster, I always asked for 'white' biscuits, which means cooked only until the tops were barely beginning to brown. I still like them this way. If you prefer a browner top, brush the biscuits with melted butter before baking. If you enjoy the sides crusty, arrange the biscuits about 1 inch apart in the baking pan: for soft sides, arrange them touching.Buttermilk Biscuits, from James McNair's Favorites, p. 411 (makes 12):
Offer butter and good jelly, jam, honey, or syrup with the biscuits.
- solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature, or cooking spray for greasing (optional)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (this is 1 stick of Earth Balance shortening)
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (which, every good vegan knows, is 3/4 cup soymilk with 1 teaspoon of vinegar mixed in, the mixture allowed to sit and curdle for a few moments)
In a bowl or food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the shortening with your fingertips, a pastry blender, or steel blade until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. If using a food processor, transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the buttermilk and stir just until the mixture sticks together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly and quickly (Bazu says: lightly and quickly being the operative words! This step is what you need to practice.) about 30 seconds. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out about 1/2 inch thick. Using a floured 2 1/2 inch round biscuit cutter, cut out circles. (Bazu says: use a quick, deliberate up/down cutting motion- don't twist the biscuit cutter- this is key for getting a good rise, and the perfect flaky texture) Place on the prepared sheet.
Bake until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve piping hot.