Light, flaky biscuits historically have been the hallmark of a fine cook, especially in the South and the heartland. The key to good biscuits has never been a secret: The butter or other fat must be cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two knives, to distribute it uniformly. As the biscuits bake, the fat melts, forming tender, falky layers.
A well-made muffin has a gently rounded, pebbled top and golden crust; a moist, fine crumb; and excellent flavor. All the more appealing when they pack a surprise, muffins can be spiked with blueberries, dried cranberries, sun-dried tomatoes, bacon bits, herbs, nuts, cheese, jalapenos or other amendments.
* Dredging fruit (sprinkling it with flour) before adding it to muffin batter helps keep it distributed throughout the batter. Shake off excess flour in a colander before mixing fruit into batter.
* Do not over-mix. Muffin batter and biscuit dough should be mixed only enough to barley moisten the dry ingredients. Resist the temptation to mix the batter or dough smooth.
Makes 1 dozen.
2 cups flour, plus flour for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a 3-quart bowl, sift together flour, sugar (if used), baking powder and salt. Dice chilled butter into 1/2-inch cubes and, using 2 knives or a pastry blender, cut butter cubes into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2. Make a depression in center of flour-butter mixture and gently stir in buttermilk, taking care not to over-mix dough. Mix only until dry ingredients are moistened.
3. Lightly dust work surface with flour. Place dough on work surface and pat into a 1 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Cut biscuits with a round cutter or into squares with a knife. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden brown on top (about 15 minutes). Serve hot.
Cheddar Biscuits: In step 1 add 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese and ] teaspoon cayenne pepper to flour mixture; then proceed as directed.
Basil Biscuits: In step 1 add 12 julienned fresh basil leaves and 3 tablespoons diced sun-dried tomatoes to flour mixture; then proceed as directed.
From "Cooking A to Z: The Complete Culinary Reference Source" (Cole Publishing Group)
Pub Date: 4/19/98