Adventures in biscuitmaking

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Dan Bolyard/courtesy photo There are all kinds of liquids you can use in your biscuit recipe, but some yield better results than others.

Last week I had been speaking with a food broker and he had brought up the subject of beer bread, having had some amazing stuff from a place in Wenatchee. I suggested an easy way to make some would be to use a commercially available biscuit mix, but just replace the liquid with beer.

I thought I had better try this out, because if it didn't work, I would have some explaining to do. A well-known brand of biscuit mix came home with me from the local megamart. I don't normally use the stuff, as I prefer to make biscuits and such from scratch. You should have seen me, looking left and right, to see if I had been spotted, and if so, did they see what was in my shopping basket.

After I got home, I wondered if there were other liquids I could use, besides beer, to make these taste better.

I scoured the refrigerator and pantry for various liquids and drinks. On the list was water, milk, buttermilk, 40 percent heavy cream, eggnog, minty hot cocoa, orange juice, 7-Up, ginger ale, Pepsi, beer, whiskey and Worcestershire sauce. I put together an ad-hoc tasting panel, with the idea that we would taste the dough and then the finished product.

First up was plain ol' water. Dough tasted okay and the finished product was equally okay. I guess this would work if you had nothing else available. Milk brought out a little more flavor and the biscuits baked up with a bit more color. Otherwise they were just okay. Buttermilk brought the dough to a whole new level. The sharp tanginess really worked well in the dough and the finished biscuit tasted fabulous. One taster commented that this is what a biscuit should taste like. Next up was the household staple (among others) 40 percent heavy cream. When making up the dough, I had to add additional cream to make a dough I could actually work with. Said dough was very rich, but the flavor was a bit muted. They baked up a bit on the dense side but one taster said this is what biscuits should taste like. They were very tasty in their own right. I had found some eggnog in the back of the fridge which still was within a week of expiring. It had a good creamy flavor and had a hint of nutmeg. It wasn't overly sweet and bordered on savory. Lovely aroma. The minty hot cocoa was made up cold with milk and then mixed into the flour. The mint flavor was very strong in the dough and after baking had a nice chocolatey-mint flavor, though it seemed a bit out of place in a biscuit. Orange juice was very overpowering in the dough but mellowed in the baked form. It then brought to mind an orange- flavored scone, as it wasn't too sweet at all. Seven-Up just made the dough sweeter and wasn't offensive at all in the baked form. The ginger ale brought to mind a more refined flavor from the hint of ginger. In the biscuit the ginger was nuanced and flavorful. Next up was Pepsi. No doubt about it in the dough, which was kind of overpowered by the cola. In the biscuit form, it was a bit subdued, though it was still very clear what it was made with. Next on the list was the beer, which was actually a bottle of Blue Moon Belgian White. No one here drinks the stuff, so it has been here for a while now. It magically turned the dough into an amazing concoction that had two of the tasters fighting to lick the bowl. The finished product was equally amazing, though one taster complained that the bitterness of the hops was a bit too much and it would have benefited from a little brown sugar mixed in. Pendleton whiskey was up next and rendered the dough unfit to eat, as the recipe called for enough of the stuff to make the dough nearly intoxicating by the spoonful. When making this batch up, I actually used a bit less than called for, as the alcohol would not create as much gluten when mixed with the flour, rendering a more loose product if I had used the full amount. In biscuit form, there was still a strong whiskey flavor, and clearly an amount of alcohol was still present. One taster commented that these would work well with a hearty stew. The final liquid I was certain would not work as I was mixing it into the flour. Perhaps it would have been better if a small amount were mixed into another liquid as using straight Worcestershire sauce was truly unfit to eat, though I still went ahead and baked them up. No one would eat them.

It was decided that the cream ones were best, followed by the buttermilk, beer, eggnog, and then the orange juice. The others weren't bad, but just not as good as the winners.


BISCUIT MIX BISCUITS

  • 2 1/4 cups biscuit mix
  • 2/3 cup milk (or alternative liquids)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, stir ingredients until soft dough forms. Turn onto surface dusted with extra biscuit mix. Knead 10 times. Roll dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut with 2 1/2-inch cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. For drop biscuits, take the dough and place spoonfuls on the ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


SCRATCH BISCUITS

  • 4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and refrigerated
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (8 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk (or alternative liquids)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper; alternatively grease a baking sheet with butter. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Toss butter into the dry ingredients until coated with flour. Working quickly and using your fingers or a pastry blender, rub or cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Alternatively, add flour mixture and butter to food processor and pulse 2 to 3 times to form pea-sized pieces; transfer to a large bowl. Add milk and stir with a fork until it just comes together into a slightly sticky, shaggy dough. . For drop biscuits, take the dough and place spoonfuls on the ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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