On Fathers’ Day we tapped into that good old Americana and had ourselves a Popeyes vs. KFC challenge (yes, I know restless locavores, an act for which there is no redemption-- just deal with it). I hauled my ass over the hill to Popeyes, my sister hauled her ass over the hill to KFC and we had ourselves a honkytonk food challenge!
And while I could write books comparing the nuanced flavor of one chicken product versus the other, I found that an easier and more stark comparison could be made between the biscuits.
KFC had cake-like biscuits, reminiscent of a scone. They were floury and had an aftertaste of baking powder in my opinion. Not my favorite.
Alternately, Popeyes’ biscuits were flaky flaky goodness, saturated in salt and fake butter! Ooo-ee!!! They were good. They were the kinds of biscuits that had a trillion layers, and every time I peeled one back, my heart leaped! Ooo-eee!!! Did we chow down!
(Popeyes was the clear winner)
Anyways, a bushel of biscuits was clearly not enough. Nope. Never. But the idea of ordering yet another extra large side of biscuits and ingesting yet another potful of trans fats hinted at my slow decline into diabetes. I dared not go back—at least not for another week.
Instead, I got a pound full of butter and made them dang biscuits myself. Sans trans fats! Browsing the weblogs, I was in search of biscuits that were flaky and rich. Biscuits that had crispy crusts. Biscuits that made you never look back. I wanted nothing shy of perfection.
I chose the Cooks Illustrated biscuit recipe because of their scientific method and technique. In their test kitchens they tested a variety of recipes and factors that impacted the flakiness of the dough. They entitled the recipe, Flaky Biscuits. Indeed, they were! Indeed.
The secret to flaky biscuits are in microlayers of freezing cold butter that are suspended in the buttermilk dough. . As they bake, the butter melts and becomes steam, which puffs the layers up as it escapes. This is the same methodology behind pie crust and puff pastries. The challenge in making biscuits is getting those microlayers of butter. The dough is a labor of the minimalist’s love. You must use super freezing cold butter and kneading as little as necessary. Anything else and you’re screwed.
To keep the butter solid and cold, don’t hesitate to pop your dough into the freezer. Though it may take more time, it is worth the rewards.
Flaky Biscuits Adapted from Cooks Illustrated (Makes 10-15)
- 12 T cold unsalted butter sectioned into, 2:8:2 T portionsPreheat the oven to 375F
- 2.5 c Flour + 2 T flour + extra for rolling
- 1 t Salt
- 1 T Baking powder
- 1/2 t baking soda
- 1 1/4 c Buttermilk
1. Cut 8 T butter into 1/8 in slices. Combine in a small bowl with 2 T flour. This will help the butter stay separate. Pop the butter into the freezer for 5-10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, sift the flour, salt, and backing powder. Add 2 T butter (not the one in the freezer) to the bowl. Work in with your fingers until you have formed small pea sized balls.
3. Take the butter out of the freezer and start to pinch each slice flat, using your thumb and index finger. Add to the flour. After all the butter is added, return the butter-flour mixture to the freezer for another ten minutes.
Meanwhile, clear yourself a nice counter space for the dough, find a rolling pin (I use a wine bottle or a saran wrap tube), and measure out your buttermilk.
4. Remove the butter mixture from the freezer and add to the flour mixture. Add ¼ c of buttermilk. Work the buttermilk in with your hands until it is just evenly distributed. Add the rest of the buttermilk and continue to bring the dough together. Don’t over knead the dough. You should feel hard butter chunks between your fingers. That is a good sign. **If you feel as if you are losing some butter chunks, return the dough to the freezer for a quick chill.
5. Once incorporated, dump the dough out onto a well floured surface and bring together. When you are able to make a ball, stop kneading.
6. Roll the dough out into a long rectangle (shoot for 5x15 inches). Make sure that the dough is well floured so that it won’t stick to the countertop. Dust off any excess flour on the top and fold one side inwards by a third. Fold the other side inwards by a third (You are making layers).
7. Roll this out into a rectangle and fold the end in again. Make sure that you are not overworking the dough and that you can still feel butter chunks. If your dough is up to it, repeat the rolling and folding process once again. Stop.
8. Roll the dough out to ½ in thickness. Cut into squares or circles.
9. Transfer to a baking sheet. Melt the last 2 T of butter and brush on the tops of the biscuits. Bake for 15-18 minutes.
Ahhhhh, sit back with some biscuits and jam and savor each layer!
P.S. If you don’t want to be a heffer, these biscuits freeze really well. You can pop them into a 375 oven and back for 15-18 minutes and they are good as new.