A proper conversation during a long road trip should always center on food. It should include some great new food ideas and of course some animated discussion (read: pig-headed opinionated aloud musings sprinkled with appropriate hand gestures).
The topic this most recent road trip was light, flaky GF biscuits. The debate: biscuit ratio and cream biscuits v. shortening biscuits. By the time we were almost to Bakersfield from near San Francisco, we’d decided to stop at Gelson’s and round-up some GF flours, butter, buttermilk and cream to make some test biscuits in our hotel room – which was equipped with a small kitchen.
Too bad it took until we’d opened the bottle of wine and laid out the ingredients to notice that the kitchen only included a giant dishwasher, microwave, tiny cook top and refrigerator. No oven.
We were that tired. If we had been in an Alton Brown kind of mood there would have been some MacGyver-antics – turning some pan into a make shift oven. But after 6 hours of driving plus a large dose of late afternoon LA crazy traffic, we opted for the wine instead.
And it made for some interesting conversation on the way home. Cap’t Awesome takes the part of chemistry teacher and my role is to make sure the finished product has chocolate in it whenever possible. Sadly, these biscuits come three ways, but none are chocolate.
As we arrived home I got out my iPhone Ratio App (and if you don’t have that, why not? It is the best $4.99 you will spend on any App) and went to work. Ruhlman’s book, Ratio is spot-on perfect for these biscuits – including his method for folding the dough which is genius for creating flakiness in GF baking.
The ratio is 3 parts flour to 1 part fat to 2 parts liquid (3-1-2). In this case, cream and buttermilk are both the fat and liquid.
Nothing could be easier.
I also live in the Julia Child planet of baking, growing up watching her make magic with ingredients. One of my favorite Julia-isms is this: If you’re afraid of butter, use cream. My translation: if you aren’t going to use butter, cream will do. And it will. These biscuits are so incredibly easy that you will think that something has to be missing.
Trust the simplicity.
I’ve made several batches and varied it slightly, even adding herbs and cheese, and every time it worked.
I’ve made my share of hockey pucks that were supposed to be biscuits. Especially after I dropped the use of gums in my baking – I’ve found that there is a challenge to making baked goods hold together after the first bite. There is nothing more disappointing than a crumbly powdery biscuit or one that breaks a tooth. I’ve baked some that could be used as building material (foundation blocks) – they were that hard.
The solution is simple.
A flour mix – cream (which serves as both fat and liquid), buttermilk and that top-dog-secret weapon for holding the baked goods together, dried egg white.
Once you gather your ingredients, preheat the oven and get a baking sheet ready, it takes no time to toss them together.
We have another long road trip planned in a few weeks. I think it is time to debate the croissant/puff pastry dilemma that’s been on our minds.
Make sure the cream and buttermilk are well chilled before you begin. Everything gets weighed into one single bowl and mixed with a fork. Keep some starch available to dust the board and your hands to avoid the dreaded sticking of the dough. Dipping your pastry cutter or butter knife in starch will also make cutting the biscuits much easier. Start preheating the oven before you gather ingredients because you want the oven to be quite hot for a while before you pop the biscuits in to bake. Feel free to experiment with GF flours, but keep to the total recommended weight. If you have to convert the grams to cup volumes try using this calculator although I highly recommend sticking to weight measures for better accuracy. And be gentle – they benefit from a light touch and can get kind of tough with too much enthusiastic handling.
Makes about 9 biscuits
- 255 grams GF flour (100 grams superfine brown rice flour, plus 75 grams gluten-free oat flour, plus 55 grams potato starch, plus 25 grams superfine white rice flour)
- 1-2 teaspoons powdered egg white, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 100 grams buttermilk (by weight not volume)
- 155 grams heavy cream (by weight not volume)
- Optional: ¼ cup grated hard cheese
- Optional: 1 tablespoon of Herbs de Provence
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.
In a medium bowl using a kitchen scale (tare to zero) weigh in the flours to equal a total of 255 grams. Add in the powdered whites, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Whisk to combine thoroughly.
Place bowl back on scale and tare to zero, again.
Pour in buttermilk until it reaches 100 grams. Zero out the scale and pour in the cream until it measures 155 grams.
Remove bowl from scale.
With a fork, blend the ingredients together. Don’t stir – pull the fork toward you and back again as your rotate the bowl. It is more of a blending motion than a stir. Don’t over mix (yes, even GF flours can get tough if over worked).
Pop some starch onto a large board. Starch your hands as well. Drop the dough into the starched board and gently flatten into a simple rectangle.
This is my interpretation of Ruhlman’s method: Fold the dough like a business letter in thirds. Once from bottom to the middle and the then the top to the middle. Turn the dough so that the length is facing you and do that fold again so that you now have a tall square.
If you are adding the optional cheese or herbs – now is the time.
Flatten the dough into a rectangle again and sprinkle the herbs or cheese on the dough. Give it a tiny pat to flatten the sprinkles into the dough, slightly. Fold one more round and if you want to add more cheese or herbs as you fold – go for it.
Flatten once more into a rectangle that is about ½ to ¾ of an inch thick. Using a butter knife or pastry cutter smattered with starch, cut the dough into nine even pieces.
Leaving them square keeps them from being over-handled and uses every scrap of dough. If you want fancier shapes, feel free to use a biscuit cutter or whatever you desire – this is definitely a dough that is happy to turn into any shape you wish.
Brush with a little extra cream if you want a brown-ish top. You can add more cheese or herbs to the top after brushing with cream.
Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly brown or golden-ish.
Notes: work the dough gently – while it is true that GF flours don’t get as tough as AP flour when over mixed, it still can toughen up the end product. Think of mixing with a fork as scraping the dough from one side to the other while you rotate the bowl. Avoid stirring which contributes to over mixing the dough. Use whatever flours or starches make you happy. Weighing flours and other ingredients makes for a way more accurate (and less frustrating) result. It takes about a week or two to get used to using the scale and you will be glad you did – fewer bowls, less flour waste and more accurate results that work well each time no matter which flours you use.