Friday, January 29, 2010

Mastering the Art of Biscuit: Gluten Free Cream Biscuits

a bit of cream biscuit: gluten free and warm
My mother, the baker, could make most any kind of old fashioned Jewish pastry with ease - strudel, rugelach, mandelbrot and even a brownie or two.  But aside from a once-a-year pancake feast prepared by the Ad Man dad, my parents never ventured into the kitchen in the early morning for anything more than a cup of coffee. 
We four kids were on our own.  Before I could reach the top of the counter, my brothers would generously set out a cereal bowl and spoon for me.
In fact, breakfast in our house was routinely cold cereal, and the boring Corn Flakes kind at that. Fluffy white-bread toast could be had, if you were lucky and there wasn't a line for the toaster.  With three older brothers the line was slow moving because they each had to toast several slices of bread.  By the time it was my turn, if there were any slices left, it would be the heel of the heels.
Sadly, until I was a teenager I had no idea that people made biscuits from scratch, or that they ate them for breakfast.  I thought the whole world got them from the Pillsbury Dough Boy and those funny little tubes of gooey dough.
As a grown-up with my very own kitchen, I tried making biscuits only to realize that making a seventeen layer chocolate cake with buttercream and ganache would be simpler.  Biscuits were a mystery.  The very best ones were flaky and light, yet substantial and always buttery warm.  The very worst were lard laden, cold hockey pucks that took an electric knife to slice open.
Most of the batches I made were alternately close to good or not worth the effort.  I finally gave up when my kids told me that McDonald's breakfast biscuits were way better than any I could make.  And McDonald's biscuits taste like they are made from the same fake butter source they use on movie theater popcorn.  That bad were mine.
It was entirely a lost cause.  That is, until we were forced by necessity to become gluten free.
Once again, I thought I would bravely try to bake some gluten free biscuits because everyone knows that when you have to bake differently than the rest of the universe you might as well begin with something that was impossible before. Expectations were pretty low.
Et voila!  Who knew that going gluten free would mean I could make a light and fluffy, yet flaky and substantial biscuit? 
No more having to mourn the loss of that tasty little breakfast treat.  We could make our own biscuit, sausage sandwiches, guilt free, aside from the fat in the sausage.  And the butter in the biscuit.  Or the cream.  No matter.  They were good.
Yes, they look a little bit funny, but these are larger in diameter on purpose because they were going to hold sausage patties and scrambled eggs.
The little flecks are from the various flours.  In this case, a bit of Authentic Classic Blend which is brown rice flour, potato flour, and tapioca flour.  And a tiny bit of Authentic Foods Featherlight blend made from cornstarch, rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour.  The gluten free equivalent to cake flour.  Cake flour makes a wonderfully light biscuit.

Gluten Free Cream Biscuits
(modified from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Book)
  • 1.5 cups of Authentic Classic Blend Gluten Free Flour
  • 1/2 cup of Authentic Featherlight Blend Gluten Free Flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • About 1.5 cups very cold heavy cream
  • extra flour for rolling the dough
Preheat oven to 425.
Whisk together flours, salt, xanthan gum, and baking powder, and sugar until fully blended.   Pour in 1 cup of very cold heavy cream and mix with a fork.  Keep adding a little bit of cream until the dough almost pulls away from the sides.  Knead it in the bowl for about 4-5 turns  and slap it onto a floured cutting board.
Pat the dough into a circle or square about 1/2 inch deep.  Using a biscuit or other cutter, make as many as possible cuts as tightly together as possible.  You don't want much dough leftover.  Brush the extra flour off the bottoms and place on a silpat lined baking sheet (or parchment lined).
Bake about 10 minutes and rotate the baking sheet.  Bake about another 5 to 9 minutes or until they are very lightly golden.  Gluten Free flours do not brown and if you get it to brown, it is going to to taste burned.
Golden!  Barely golden.  What they lack in color, they make up in rich goodness.
Serve warm. 
Add a scrambled egg and sausage patty or serve with butter and jam.
The leftover biscuits can be reheated briefly in the microwave or used for shortcakes.  Note:  If you make these with regular flour, use a mix of all-purpose and cake flour  (1.5 all-purpose plus 1/2 c. cake flour) and leave out the xanthan gum.   Although I specified Authentic Brand Gluten Free flours, you can use all of one kind of gluten free flour - any brand,  if you wish.  They will be a little less light, but still taste great.  The cream must be very, very cold.  Also, the trick to light and flaky biscuits is to work the dough as little as possible.  Thus the mixing with  fork, just until it comes together, kneading it a bit, and patting it flat rather than rolling it to death.
  Bon Appetit
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