Friday, January 27, 2012

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Perfect Biscuits

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host.  Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!
Aud is from Australia where biscuits are called scones and scones are called rock cakes.  Here in North America, these are biscuits.  Her recipe and more importantly her techniques were excellent, these biscuits were very light and fluffy and didn’t call for as much fat as most recipes.  I followed her recipe substituting the butter with Earth Balance butter substitute and Spectrum butter flavored palm shortening.  I also replaced the cow’s milk with rice milk to make a heart healthy, vegan version. 
Whether you use real butter or a butter substitute, you must grate the fats on a box grater and freeze them.  The fat must be very cold to prevent it from melting into the flour to early.  Grating the butter will let it freeze faster and makes it easier and quicker to cut into the flour.  If your kitchen is very warm or you are making these in hot weather, you may want to chill your flour as well.

Sifting the flour three times is also essential in making flaky biscuits.  Sift the flour along with the baking powder and salt.  I used only a pinch of salt because Earth Balance is on the salty side and the recipe calls for unsalted butter.  If you have baking powder that has been sitting around in your kitchen for a very long time, you may want to buy some fresh.  Old baking powder doesn’t preform well.  
The dough needs to be handled gently, only kneading it only once and then folding and turning the dough three or four times before shaping it and cutting it.  It’s also important not to twist the cutter in the dough, press the cutter straight down and lift it up.  Twisting the cutter into the dough will also prevent it from rising.

It’s important to preheat your oven.  If you put the biscuits on the baking sheet so that they sides just touch each other you will have soft sided biscuits, if you leave some space between them they will be crispy on the sides.  You can see how light and layered these biscuits came out.  You can actually see the strands of gluten.

These biscuits were so delicious, I got brave and decided to try and make some using sweet potato flour.  I’ve had this box of sweet potato flour for some time and I’ve been waiting to try it in a recipe.  I also liked the idea of making a gluten free biscuit.

I thought substituting sweet potato flour would be OK since the recipe said that lower gluten flour is actually better than high gluten flour, but I was mistaken.  My first clue that this wasn’t going to go well was that the dough was very crumbly.

When I pulled them from the oven, they looked like they did when they went in.  They didn’t raise at all.
In hindsight, I should have used half white flour and half sweet potato flour.  The taste was good but the texture was hockey puck.

I stuffed the warm white flour biscuits with my mock egg salad and had a very tasty lunch.

Perfect Vegan Biscuits
Makes 6 biscuits - Use organic ingredients whenever possible
1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter substitute
1 tablespoon Spectrum butter flavored palm shortening
I cup unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1/2 cup rice milk 
Put the butter substitute and palm shortening on a plate or bowl in your freezer for 15 minutes
Remove the from the freezer and grate them on a box grater 
Put the grated fat back in the freezer for 15 minutes
Preheat your oven to 475°
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together three times.
Sprinkle the grated fats into the flour  
Using a pastry cutter, cut the fats into the flour until they resemble breadcrumbs with some pea sized pieces.
Pour the rice milk into the flour mixture and mix until it forms a sticky dough
(the wetter the dough the lighter the scones will be)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and lightly flour the dough
Knead the dough very gently one time and then fold it in half and turn it three or four times.
Pat the dough out into a 4” by 6” rectangle.
Using a 2” biscuit cutter or small glass, cut six biscuits without twisting the cutter.
Put the biscuits on a baking sheet, just touching for soft sided biscuits or not for crispy sided biscuits.
Bake for 10 minutes and remove to a cooling rack
Best if served warm.

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