buttermilk biscuits – with a difference
If you’ve been following along, you may recall that one damp gray day it became necessary for me to bring indoors bushels of lemon verbena, listing badly in the rain. You may remember too that – as a happy consequence of this most deliciously fragrant herb having come indoors – our house now smelled like a commercial for the cleanest house on the block (which, no doubt, it wasn’t unless all my neighbors were having particularly messy days.) Anyway, I digress.
That day rather than clean the house, I opted instead to churn up some lemon verbena ice-cream, an impressively easy choice to make. I also dried a pint-jar full and with the rest, I made a lemon verbena sugar to store in the freezer for inspirations that might come later. I had plenty of this citrusy sugar to share and so I did.
Mike, our wonderful son-in-law and certainly one of the biggest foodies in the family – (and that’s not without considerable competition) – decided to incorporate some in his biscuits. What a great idea! And so the next time I made biscuits, I did the same. And they were wonderful! And then, not content to leave it at that, I had to try a different addition from the herb garden. And we loved those too, and so I share: buttermilk biscuits – with fresh sage and orange zest. There will be a footnote on the lemon verbena variety but, because you can’t find that herb in your grocery store and will instead have to wait until next year when you plant your own, those biscuits won’t be the headliner here. (Don’t worry, I won’t let you forget to plan for it next summer.)
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Did you know there was such a thing as biscuit flour? I didn’t. It’s simply a flour milled from 100% soft winter wheat. But you can approximate it using equal parts of all-purpose flour and the lighter, softer cake or pastry flour. If you have cake flour by all means use it. If you don’t, not to worry. Just use the all-purpose flour but know that your biscuits won’t be quite as flaky and light as they might otherwise be.
To top these you may want to try incorporating a drizzle of honey and a bit of orange zest into some softened butter — allow the whole of it to melt down the sides and be caught by your tongue, just in the nick of time!
Buttermilk Biscuits with Fresh Sage & Orange Zest
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups cake or white pastry flour
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- ¼teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup cold buttermilk
- 3 large sage leaves, roughly chopped
- the zest of one large orange
Preheat the oven to 425°F. If you have a cast-iron skillet, put it in the oven to bring it to the same temperature. If you don’t have one, use a cooking sheet instead. (The case for biscuits made in a cast-iron skillet is that the bottoms & tops will be lightly browned and crispy, but the sides, because they’re packed closely together, will be soft and tender.)
Using a food processor, drop into the bowl the all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Process briefly to mix. Add the butter and, using the pulse button, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is coarsely crumbly. Add the chopped sage and orange zest and pulse to blend. Add the cold buttermilk all at once, and process just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. The resulting mixture will be “shaggy.” You don’t want to over-mix!
Sprinkle your bread board or counter top with cake flour. Turn the dough out onto the board, scraping the sides and bottom of the work bowl. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit more flour and then, with floured hands gently knead the dough a few times. Pat out a rectangle about 1½-inches thick. Fold in thirds, like a letter. Press out again into a rectangle about 1-inch thick and again fold in thirds. Add more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Press or roll out one last time to 1-inch thickness.
Using a 2- or 2½-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut into biscuits. (Push straight down and don’t twist as that would “seal” the edges and the biscuits wouldn’t rise as well.) Pack together any scraps and cut into additional biscuits.
Place the biscuits in a preheated cast-iron skillet quite close together (or on a baking sheet about ½-inch apart.) Bake until the biscuits are golden brown, about 15 minutes to 18 minutes. (If you’ve used a skillet, you’ll need to bake them in two batches.)
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P.S. – I know you might be curious. My house did get cleaned the next day. Yes, I did it myself. : ) And it still smelled like a commercial.
To make the lemon verbena biscuits, instead of 4 teaspoons of sugar, use 5 teaspoons of lemon verbena sugar. (See Lemon Verbena Ice-cream post for guidelines.)