Whole Wheat Cornmeal Biscuits
Perhaps my favorite part of Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, is the hypothetical scenario he paints for the reader in which he brings down some perps who are smuggling biscuits from his fictitious Hardee’s restaurant. The gripping scene ends with Aziz confronting the smugglers and saying, “Gimme back my biscuits.” Though I’ve never been to or even seen a Hardee’s (#northeastliving), this passage really gave me a hankering for some biscuits!
Friday turned out to be Carolyn’s Get *Stuff* Done Day. Following a productive morning appointment of crown-prepping, impressing (taking an impression, not wowing…necessarily), and making/cementing a temporary crown — a process that used to take me a solid 2 appointments — I had the afternoon off due to a cancellation. I decided to use my free time to address my biscuit-craving.
Leaving school at 3pm, I had a solid hour-and-a-half of good, natural lighting, a necessity when one relies on one’s humble iPhone 5S for her blog shots. Plus, I had to be back at school at 5:15pm for a meeting. To add to the time crunch, my cookie monster had polished off the last chocolate chip that morning, so the cookie jar needed some TLC as well.
I had a lentil stew on the menu for dinner that night, so I wanted a nice, fluffy biscuit, but preferably one that was on the wholesome side of things. Lentils and Krispy Kremes are just too much of a non-sequitur. I decided it was time to update the staple all-purpose baking powder biscuit recipe I had been relying upon for years.
Especially as one travels in a southerly direction, the quality of one’s biscuits increases exponentially in importance. I think they actually use it to measure one’s character and suitability to be alive. Before heading to Virginia next year, I know that I need to solidify my biscuit game, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get going!
There are a few critical principles for good biscuit-making: cold butter, minimal handling, and ASAP consumption.
First, the butter. I store my butter in the freezer and typically transfer one stick at a time to the fridge as I need it for cooking and baking purposes, EXCEPT when I’m making biscuits. I keep the butter frozen solid right up until the moment I make the dough. I use a grater to coarsely shred the butter into an incorporable consistency without warming it. Keeping the butter super cold right until it enters the oven does wonders for your biscuit crumb.
Second, the minimal handling. Over-fondling the dough leads to tough, leathery biscuits. Using just a few swift and decisive strokes to combine your wet and dry ingredients ensures a light and fluffy biscuit, rather than a dense and dry hardtack.
Finally, the ASAP consumption. No explanation required. Fresh, warm biscuits are heaven itself, especially when smeared with butter and strawberry jam.
All in all, I somehow managed to prepare, photograph, and bake my biscuits, AND whip up a batch of Brown Butter Butterscotch Rice Krispy Treats (recipe coming soon), ANNNNND I still made it back to school on-time(ish)…ran into my meeting at 5:16pm 😉
Whole Wheat Cornmeal Biscuits
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, measured by loosely spooning into a measuring cup and gently leveling with a knife
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons freeze-dried chives (optional)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen solid
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Splash vanilla extract (optional)
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk (I used vanilla-flavored)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees farenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Coarsely grate the frozen butter into a medium-sized mixing bowl, and place in freezer. In a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and chives (if using), until aerated and fluffy. Wash your hands with very cold water, and dry them thoroughly (it’s for a good cause, I promise!). Remove grated butter from freezer, add dry ingredients to bowl, and use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour mixture, until you have achieved coarse crumbs — minimize the manhandling. In a separate bowl, whisk together honey, yogurt, egg, and vanilla (if using), until thoroughly combined and foamy. Add egg mixture to butter-flour mixture, and stir together, using only a few brisk strokes, until all ingredients come together into a coherent mass. Scrape dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet, and pat out into a square, approximately 3/4″ – 1″ thick. Use a long, sharp knife or bench scraper with decisive strokes to cut into 9 or 16 biscuits, wiggling the knife to slightly separate cut biscuits — aim for a small crack of daylight (no more than 5mm) between cut biscuits. Brush tops with milk, and bake for 20-25 minutes (thicker biscuits will take longer to cook), until biscuits are puffy and tops are golden brown. Use the parchment paper to slide the baked biscuits onto a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes prior to serving. Serve biscuits warm with butter and/or strawberry jam. Cooled, leftover biscuits may be stored at room temperature, in airtight containers for up to 2 days. Reheat leftovers in oven at 350 degrees, just until warm.