Recipe developer Julia Turshen is at it again, with a guide to culinary satisfaction that’s won the praise of Ina Garten, April Bloomfield and Ruth Reichl. There’s nothing like pulling a perfect tray of something delicious out of the oven, which is why we’re cooking our way through Small Victories.
Reading the late, great Edna Lewis’s seminal book The Taste of Country Cooking so many years ago helped me, a young New York Jew whose entire family lives in the tristate area, begin to understand the nuances, depth and incredible appeal of Southern cooking traditions and techniques. One of the stories about Edna that I love the most is when tasked with making a huge amount of biscuits for an event, she did so one batch at a time. She said it was only way she would do it, because she did it by feel. If she scaled up the recipe, the biscuits just wouldn’t be the same. She worked with a true understanding of the physicality of baking — the intuition that comes when you let your hands tell you when the dough is right.
Biscuits are a great introduction to the wonderful small victory of making dough without any tools except your own two hands and learning “the feel.” By using your fingers to work the butter into the flour, you can create little pockets of fat that, in turn, create steam when the biscuits are in the oven, which results in the flakiest baked goods (this skill also translates to making pie dough and scones). Here, I cover the biscuits with all the toppings you would typically find on top of an everything bagel (and put some inside the dough, too). A mash-up of my two favorite carbohydrates, this is my New York nod to a Southern gem.
Spin-offs: Skip the seeds inside and on top of the biscuits and try all sorts of different toppings (or just brush with buttermilk and leave them plain). Before baking, brush the biscuits with maple syrup and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Or go sweet and savory with a brush of maple syrup and a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper. Or spread with mustard and top with a bit of grated cheese.
For cheddar and scallion biscuits, add a handful each of thinly sliced scallions and coarsely grated cheddar cheese to the dough (leave out the poppy seed mixture).
For jalapeño popper biscuits, leave out the poppy seed mixture and substitute ½ cup cream cheese for ½ cup of the buttermilk and add a small handful each of chopped pickled jalapeños and coarsely grated cheddar cheese to the dough.
For croque monsieur biscuits, add a handful each of diced ham and coarsely grated Gruyère cheese to the dough. Don’t add the poppy seed mixture to the dough.
For chicken and biscuits, add an extra ¼ cup buttermilk to the dough (leave out the poppy seed mixture) and drop it by large spoonfuls on top of a pot of simmering chicken soup (filled with shredded meat and vegetables), cover the pot, and cook over low heat until the topping is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Or cut out biscuits, put them on top of a baking dish filled with pot-pie filling, and bake at 400°F until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits are gorgeously browned, about 25 minutes.
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons onion flakes
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, plus more for brushing
For the biscuits
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. (You can skip this if you’d like, since all of the butter in the dough will keep the biscuits from sticking, but I love anything that makes cleaning up easier.)
In a small bowl, stir together the poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and onion flakes. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk more than you think you should — this isn’t just to combine the ingredients but also to aerate them. Plus, how much easier is it to clean a whisk than a sifter, amiright?? Using your hands, work the butter into the flour mixture, rubbing it between your fingers until the mixture turns into coarse crumbs. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in the buttermilk until the mixture becomes a shaggy dough — no need to overmix here. Stir in half of the poppy seed mixture.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it out so that it’s about 1 inch thick. Using a 2½-inch round cutter (or a juice glass), stamp out biscuits as close together as possible. Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Pat the dough scraps together (do not overwork the dough), reroll, and cut out more biscuits. You should end up with a dozen biscuits.
Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator and chill the biscuits for about 1 hour. Baking them from cold will yield flakier biscuits (the butter will be slower to melt and will create more distinct layers), but if you don’t have time, don’t worry — the biscuits will still be very good.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450°F.
Right before baking, brush each biscuit lightly with buttermilk and then sprinkle evenly with the remaining poppy seed mixture.
Bake the biscuits until they’re risen and golden, 15 to 20 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through baking. Serve warm!