Today: How to turn 2 ingredients into perfect biscuits in less time than it takes to drink your coffee. Extra genius points: The formula is so simple, you'll probably never need to look it up again.
Cream biscuits have always been the smart home baker's secret weapon. They're exceptionally simple to make with outsized results -- tender, rich, and crunchy-tipped -- without asking you to be confident cutting butter into flour, or know what a laminated dough is, or have people yell at you if they see you twisting your biscuit cutter. Nobody is going to yell at you over a cream biscuit.
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But it turns out they can get even simpler, putting them in the realm of just-add-water mixes, without the extra suspect ingredients and stabilizers. Even more importantly, as PJ Hamel, the developer of this recipe who's been at King Arthur for going on 25 years, put it, "I'm totally into 'fast and easy,' but for a complete win you need to append 'REALLY tasty' to that, as well -- and these biscuits fit the bill."
If you tend to argue (to yourself or others) that you're not a baker, that will hold up even less than it used to. And if you already love to bake, these will, for better or worse, be within your grasp at all times. This is literally all you do: Stir together equal parts (by weight) of self-rising flour and heavy cream, scoop (or, if you'd rather, roll out and cut), brush with cream or milk or water, bake briefly in a very hot oven.
How does the simplest recipe turn out to be no compromise at all? Why does my grandmother insist we always buy Bisquick?
To answer the first question (the second is beyond the scope of this column): Most obviously, self-rising flour has a proportional amount of baking powder and salt already in it, which is what makes it rise virtually on its own -- the baking powder in the mix gets bubbling with nothing more than the introduction of a liquid and heat, so there's no need to add a measure of leavener on top of that.
But aside from the ease of having all your dry ingredients in one handy bag, self-rising flour is also made with softer wheat than all-purpose. This makes it lower in protein and especially nice for quick breads like biscuits, where you're looking for a lightness of being and very little gluten development.
The forgiving nature of heavy cream (these are very hard to overbake), and the impossible-to-forget 1:1 ratio of flour to cream make these even more friendly to any level of baker (or non-baker). "I love that I can go somewhere and think, 'Hmmm, 14 biscuits would be about right' -- okay, 7 ounces flour, 7 ounces heavy cream. Or, for larger biscuits, 14 ounces," Hamel told me. "I love that you can make 'em up, freeze without baking, then pull out just what you want and bake right from the freezer."
Serve them with butter and jam. Or honey. Or dress them like a Mainer, as Hamel recommends: Split them and dribble with cream before topping with berries and whipped cream (Are you counting? That's 3 creams!). Or embed a sugar cube doused in orange juice in each biscuit before baking, a Southern trick for a sweet, melty core that Hamel also likes. Or add herbs or bacon or cheese. Or just mix up your two ingredients and be -- without sacrifice or shame -- done.
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Food52er and Scone Lady mrslarkin for this one!
Photos by James Ransom
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."