My husband Jack and I have travelled to Vancouver several times over the last eight years. Each time, we made a point of making a short side trip to Seattle.
Everywhere I visit, I always check out the food scene, and Seattle has terrific selections in every category. Interesting baked goods used to be a rarity in Seattle, but not any more. Despite the lack of a longstanding tradition in this area, the city now features numerous restaurants that offer biscuits, and only biscuits, in sandwich form.
Seattle biscuits are craggy and crunchy on the outside and angelically fluffy, warm and chewy on the inside, with just a touch of sweetness. And, as luck would have it, they are enormous.
The menus at these biscuit restaurants are strictly breakfast and lunch, as they close mid-afternoon. Customers can order varied breakfast sandwiches of eggs and cheese, plus a measure of house-made sauce. The sauce, a sort of tomato-pink aioli with an eye-opening kick, is a great complement for biscuits that are dense and dry enough to demand some kind of dressing. There’s also an assortment of biscuit-and-gravy sandwich choices for a more traditional take on biscuits.
Those in need of something sweet can order biscuits with butter and jam, maple peanut butter or a strawberry shortcake biscuit with whipped cream. However, the most amazing concoction on a biscuit is a generous serving of Nutella paired with sliced banana and whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Amazing! And, of course, being Seattle, the coffee is locally roasted and is exceptionally good.
In my attempt to create these incredible biscuits at home, my investigations uncovered a few simple rules to consider when making biscuits. The rules may be simple, but I quickly learned that they are crucial.
Always chill the butter and flour. Once you’ve combined your butter and flour, put the bowl back in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes to make sure the butter stays cold.
Always preheat the oven in order to create sky-high biscuits.
Biscuits require a soft touch on the mixing, turning out and patting down of the dough.
Most of biscuit success is in how gently you handle the dough. The ingredients should just come together, not blend into batter.
Always handle the dough with cold hands and utensils.
Use buttermilk. Buttermilk gives biscuits their signature tang and keeps the dough tender. Make sure it’s very cold when you add it to the dough. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, and do so only once, so as not to overwork it. Cut the dough with a sharp knife into large square pieces. This is much more efficient and reduces waste, compared to using round cutters. Place cut biscuits on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet, barely touching. As they bake, they will cling to each other while they rise.
o 15 ml (3 tsp) baking powder
o 12.5 ml (2½ tsp) kosher salt
o 5 ml (1 tsp) sugar
o 1.25 ml (1/4 tsp) baking soda
o 1.5 l (5½ cups) cold all-purpose flour, plus more
o 375 ml (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (keep in refrigerator until needed)
o 475 ml (1½ cups) cold buttermilk
o 1 large egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 250 C (475 F). Prepare a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together baking powder, salt, sugar, baking soda and flour. Add butter and combine with a pastry blender or two forks, until it forms the texture of a coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Place in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Mix in buttermilk with a fork, then gently knead just until the dough comes together. The dough will be flaky.
On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough down and gently roll it into a rectangle 3-cm (1¼-inch) thick. Cut biscuits with a sharp knife or a pastry scraper into 10-cm (4-inch) squares. Push together any remaining dough, gently roll and cut. Place biscuits on a prepared baking sheet and brush tops with egg. Bake until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Makes approximately 20 biscuits.