I have a confession to make…
I’m a biscuit snob.
I said it.
Over the past few years there has been a sudden explosion of “Southern” “Soul Food” restaurants in my little corner of North Brooklyn.
It would appear that fried chicken is the new cupcake. No, that’s not right. Gourmet doughnuts are the new cupcake.
Fried chicken is the new… burger?
Don’t get me wrong. I ain’t complainin’. I can’t fry chicken to save my life, and I LOVE fried chicken.
Every time I’ve tried to make it at home it’s come out under or over cooked, usually pretty greasy, and never as crispy as I’d like. There are very few recipes I’ve never been able to master, but I’d like to think I know when enough’s enough. At this point I’ve accepted defeat and decided it’s better to just leave the fried chicken to the professionals.
The problem though, is that for all of the fried chicken professionals we have running around, I haven’t yet found a place where their biscuits don’t feel like an afterthought. It’s as if they know they have to serve biscuits because, like, they’re a chicken joint, but they don’t actually care about making sure they’re just as good as the chicken.
Instead of light, tender, flaky, delicate, pillowy, buttery little clouds of biscuits, most of the these so called chicken joints serve dense, tough little hockey pucks. Most of the time they serve them with a big ramekin full of honey butter, hoping you’ll slather so much on that you won’t notice there’s anything wrong. It makes me sad, and it doesn’t need to be this way.
I know a lot of people are afraid of making biscuits at home. I know it’s easy to screw them up if you don’t know to use a delicate hand. I know a lot of people think of biscuits the way I think of fried chicken. I’m reminded of the words of wise old G. Dubya, “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… you can’t get fooled again.”
Here’s the thing though. Biscuits are not that hard to get right. I promise you that they’re easier than frying chicken. Whether you’re at home on a Sunday morning, or slinging chicken in a busy hipster soul food restaurant, if you want a tender delicate biscuit the only trick is to treat them tenderly and delicately. It’s really that simple.
It doesn’t matter how you get the butter into the flour, as long as it doesn’t melt in the process. You always want to keep that butter cold. I used to think a pastry blender was the only method gentle enough for a tender biscuit, but I’ve tried pulsing the butter in with a food processor, cutting it in with two knives, even mashing it in with a fork, and they all worked just fine.
I think the thing that really makes the biggest difference is how you mix the liquid into the flour. You want to gently stir and fold the liquid and dry ingredients together to moisten as much of the flour as possible without over mixing it. If a bit of the flour doesn’t want to mix in, don’t sweat it. To make sure you have super flaky layers you’ll want to fold the dough over on itself a few times, so you can mix that little bit of extra flour back in then.
To add some extra flavor and interest, I took my old standard biscuit recipe and substituted some pureed roasted butternut squash for a bit of the buttermilk. This is a perfect recipe if you already plan to serve butternut squash at your Thanksgiving dinner. If you don’t, and you don’t want to take the time to roast the squash just for the biscuits, you can use canned squash if you can find it, or canned pumpkin if you can’t.
I also wanted to add the flavor of fresh sage to compliment the squash, but I didn’t really want to have large visible chunks of sage in the dough. I decided that the best way to evenly distribute the sage, and it’s fragrant earthy flavor, all throughout the biscuits would be to pulse the sage together with some brown sugar in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor though, just try to chop the sage as finely as you can.
The combination of fresh sage and roasted squash really adds wonderful earthy sweetness and depth that, to me at least, just screams fancy pants Thanksgiving dinner. Homemade biscuits are always a welcome addition to any meal, but this recipe is so quintessentially Autumnal that you’re guests are sure to be ooohing and aaahing over them all through dinner.
Flaky Butternut Squash & Sage Biscuits
1 small butternut squash
1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
12 to 15 sage leaves
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup butternut squash puree (or pumpkin puree)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons heavy cream or melted butter
Preheat oven to 400.
Slice the squash in half, lengthwise, and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Rub the cut side of the squash flesh with oil and place cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast squash for about 40 minutes or until fork tender. Cool completely, remove the skin, and mash the flesh with a fork, or puree in a food mill or food processor.
Turn oven up to 450.
Combine the sage leaves and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and run until the sage is very finely chopped (you can also just chop the sage very very finely with a knife). Add flour, baking powder, salt, cram of tartar, ground pepper, and cinnamon and pulse to combine. Cut the cold butter into 1 inch chunks, add to flour, and pulse into small pea sized pieces (if you don’t have a food processor use a pastry blender). Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill for at least 30 minutes (or overnight). Mix squash puree and buttermilk together, make a well in the center of the flour, and pour in buttermilk all at once. Gently stir and fold together with a fork until just moistened, and bring together in a ball with your hands. Do not try to mix the liquid into the flour in the food processor or your biscuits will be tough and dense.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently push dough out into a flat disk using your hands (or a rolling pin). Dust lightly with flour, fold in half, and gently roll or press back out. Repeat 5 or 6 times to create layers in your biscuits that will separate when baked. Roll or pat dough out to about 3/4 inch thick and cut into circles using a 2.5 inch biscuit cutter. Remaining dough can be recombined once, but no more or it will get tough. Recombined biscuits will not be as pretty or as flaky as the first batch, but they’re still worth it. Transfer biscuits to parchment lined baking sheets and brush tops with cream or melted butter. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown on top.