If asked, it would take me a while to think of my favorite song or movie or book, but I can tell you instantly where I had my favorite biscuits. Ad Hoc. Popeye’s is a close second. I really like biscuits. I order them often and I rarely share. The best ones are salty, craggy on the outside, cottony on the inside, and require wads of napkins.
As much as I love biscuits, I only recently tried to make them. I have a deeply held bias that kneading and rolling out dough on a floured surface is too fussy for morning work. I don’t want to clean up that much mess in the morning. The thought of having to clean the counter twice (once pre-rolling to make sure it’s extra clean and again at the end to scrub off the flour and dough bits) just makes me want to crawl back into bed. But when I had a chance to bring something to a “breakfast for dinner” party last December, biscuits were the first thing that came to mind. I have no problem making a big old mess if it’s for dinner.
When I dug into the internet for recipe ideas, I got strong signals to look to my own bookshelf: Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book. I love this book almost as much as I love biscuits. It’s one of those books that’s studded with genius recipes. It has no pictures, but I still want to make every single thing in there. Part of the appeal is Ms. Cunningham’s inviting, reassuring tone. Another part of the appeal is that it’s filled with things like Custard-Filled Cornbread and Chocolate Walnut Butter Bread. So when Orangette called The Breakfast Book’s cream biscuits outstanding and impossible to mess up, I got out my biscuit cutters (heretofore used as cookie cutters) and spread flour all over my counter.
The recipe is easy and the biscuits really are delicious. The process is very simple: you mix together the dry ingredients, then add enough heavy cream to get the dough to form a tender mass. You only knead it for a minute before patting it to the right width and cutting out your shapes. Each raw biscuit then gets a dip in a bowl of melted butter. I sprinkle each one with a little sea salt for even more savoriness. They are so rich in flavor, yet manage to feel light. They are a trusty vehicle for ham and a worthy companion to strawberry jelly. I like to freeze a few biscuits from the batch, as they reheat perfectly and provide an entirely hassle-free breakfast.
Adapted from The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham
Makes about 12 2-inch biscuits
These are best immediately after baking. Once they sit at room temperature for a while, they get a little tough and uniform in texture, but popping them in the oven for a few minutes brings them back to life.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 to 1.5 cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use an ungreased baking sheet).
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Stir with a fork to lighten and combine. Stirring the dry ingredients constantly with a wooden spoon, slowly add 1 cup of the cream. Gather the dough together, if it is shaggy and has dry pieces, add up to 1/2-cup more cream until the dough holds together and feels tender.
Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute (be careful not to over work the dough). Pat the dough into a shape about 1/2-inch thick (pat the dough into a square shape if you are not using biscuit cutters). Either cut out your biscuits with a cutter or, if you patted the dough into a square, cut the dough into 12 squares. (Because this dough isn’t designed for a lot of kneading, re-rolling the scraps creates biscuits that are a little tougher than those from the first cut. I re-roll anyway.) Dip each piece into the melted butter, covering all sides. Place the pieces 2 inches apart. Sprinkle each piece with coarse sea salt, if desired.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve hot.