On cozy weekend mornings, when a bowl of cold cereal just won’t cut it, but I’d rather be relaxing with the Sunday paper than standing at the stove flipping pancakes, I make sweet cream biscuits.
Biscuits, like pie, have a way of inspiring both joy and fear — joy in eating them, fear in making them. But don’t let the Southern grannies fool you: You don’t have to have Dixie blood coursing through your veins or a pantry stocked with special flour to make a good biscuit.
All you need are a few staples and the proper technique. But here’s the good news: That technique is all about being lazy. For once, you don’t have to plan ahead and take things out of the fridge in advance because the ingredients should be cold. You don’t have to get your mixer dirty or give your arm a wooden-spoon workout because the less you mess with the dough, the better. You don’t even have to roll it out. Just pat it into a big, fat slab. The thicker you cut the biscuits the taller they rise.
Basically, when making biscuits, it pays to be a slacker.
And that suits me just fine. Especially on a slow-moving weekend morning, when lounging is at the top of my to-do list. Or on a busy weeknight at dinner time, when I need to top a skillet of chicken pot pie, or round out a soup-and-salad dinner. That’s when I’ll swap out the cream for buttermilk to get a more savory flavor, and sometimes add fresh herbs, seasonings or cheese.
If you’ve ever been afraid to embrace the biscuit, just give yourself 10 minutes — and permission to be lazy.
Sweet Cream Biscuits
Makes about 8 biscuits
This is essentially a sweet version of the buttermilk biscuits I make at dinnertime (see the variation below). If you don’t have cream, don’t worry. The milk will work just fine. The biscuits won’t be quite as rich but they’ll still be buttery and delicious. Keep in mind your hands are going to get messy, so before you begin, have everything at the ready.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, half and half or milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well to combine. Add the cubed butter and cut in with a pastry cutter until the pieces are the size of small peas. Alternatively you can mix the dough in a food processor and pulse in the butter.
Add the liquid and toss the mixture together with a spoon until it’s clumpy and the flour is evenly moistened. (Don’t stir, just toss. Once you add the liquid try not to mess with the dough too much or you’ll activate the gluten in the flour and the biscuits will end up dense and chewy.)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Push and fold it in on itself a few times until it’s a cohesive mass. Shape the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Starting at the outside edge, cut out rounds with a 3-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Be sure to push it straight down; twisting or turning will seal the edges and keep the biscuits from rising as high as they should. You should get about 6 biscuits. Push the scraps together (don’t knead; just push them together into another 1-inch-thick circle) and cut out 2 to 3 more.
Place biscuits on a baking sheet. If desired, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Variation: Buttermilk Biscuits
Omit the sugar. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda to the dry ingredients. Use buttermilk instead of cream. Feel free to add chopped fresh herbs or savory seasonings like chili powder. You can even sprinkle the tops with grated cheese.