February 27, 2009

Two Spoonfuls: The Biscuit Method

This week we're headed back into Alton Brown Territory. For me, it's The Biscuit Method, and I'll tell you right now...anything with the word "biscuit" in it is okay with me. Biscuits are my favorite, favorite food (next to cake & cupcakes with sprinkles. mmmmm, cupcaaaaakes). But the Biscuit Method isn't just about biscuits, nope, it "refers to any procedure that calls for solid fat to be 'cut' into flour." The most common uses are for biscuits and pie crusts.

I'm not going to try and explain how the science works when you make biscuits, but I will give you a few of Alton's tips from this method:

1. Freeze butter, chill shortening.

2. Rub the fat into the dry goods, rather than cutting. Alton refers to the way you'd rub a puppy's ear. awww

3. When cutting biscuits, press straight down with a biscuit cutter, then twist. Don't twist as you press down, it can cause uneven rising.

To test this method, I made the Phase III Biscuit (Alton's new favorite biscuit). I'll admit I consider myself a pretty bad baker, though my husband doesn't agree. Baking things like biscuits kind of makes me nervous. Sticky dough makes me nervous. Sticky dough is an understatement in this case.

I followed the rules. I tossed my dry ingredients in the food processor. I grated my frozen butter (which was a mess. It stuck to the grater, it froze my fingers. Yuck!).

I rubbed the butter into my dry ingredients with my fingers. Again, yuck. I suppose this is another reason sticky dough makes me nervous. I'm not a messy fingers kind of girl.

I folded the wet ingredients into the dry and then placed the dough onto a floured piece of wax paper. The instructions said to use the wax paper to fold the dough a couple times, as gently as possible, into a rectangle. This is where everything went wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong. Did I say sticky? The dough wouldn't "fold" into anything but a globby mess. The dough was a disaster. I ended up scraping it off the wax paper and using an ice cream scoop to drop the dough onto the pan.

I didn't get those nice, round biscuits we all love. Each one was a different size. A different sized cow patty shape, or what my dad used to call "road apples". Gross

In the end, they tasted great. I'm sure I did something wrong. Maybe I touched the dough too much. I rubbed the puppy's ear too long. I don't know. I'll try again some other time, or maybe I'll go for Alton's Chicken & Dumplings recipe instead. Dumplings are a mess, right? That's perfect for me. haha


There are several of Alton's biscuit recipes on the Food Network website.
Or, you can watch a video of the master here: Part 1, Part 2 starring the famous MaMae!

And if you're in the eastern part of the US, I strongly urge you to stop in at a Bob Evans Restaurant. In my opinon, the best biscuits on earth. I mean it. I drive miles out my way to eat them. I have a folding map of Bob Evans restaurants. It's serious.

Most people know that in the UK, "biscuits" are more like cookies. And there really isn't a British (that I've found) equivalent to the American biscuit, the closest thing is a scone. And a scone is a scone. Confusing, no?

Enough about biscuits, I want to know what Jenn's got cooking...


Jenn Maruska said...

Awwww - rubbing the puppy ear! I love it!

Well, as long as the biscuits taste great, who cares what shape they are!

Great post - I love biscuits! : )

Christina J. said...

I'm with Jenn; as long as they taste good, who cares how they look?

I love biscuits, too. Yum.

Lawson's said...

I enjoyed your post about Alton's Phase III biscuit. I just suffered through my second attempt to make them and wound up on the internet looking for help. I love everything Alton, but I think this recipe is a cruel joke. I ended up adding extra flour so I could get manageable dough that can be cut. The biscuits are still good but wind up a little dry.

Here's hoping the next time will be better.

Frustrated in Houston

Junie Moon said...

I love your biscuits post, very helpful. There must be some kind of food cravings thing wafting about in the air as February has been a big "think about and cook lots of food" month for me. In fact, I posted about food today (Saturday) and will do so again tomorrow. I wonder why this is happening. Does the month of February invoke some kind of internal sense of starvation or something? Whatever the reason, now I want to bake biscuits.

Seanpt said...

I found this blog post when searching for more info on "Alton Brown Phase III Biscuits" because I ran into the exact same problem.

What I ended up with were Muffins, not biscuits, because I had to work in extra flour just to make them workable. This extra work destroyed the biscuit texture but at least I was gentle enough to keep the muffin texture.

But there is absolutely no way that recipe, as printed, can be cut with a biscuit cutter.

Rick said...

I had the same problem. The dough seemed to be too wet, almost like a batter. In Alton's defense, he did say in the recipe that that would happen. I ended up dropping them onto a pan. They're in the oven now; we'll see what happens. This recipe is a disappointment, though. I've been an Alton disciple for years, and he's never led me astray until now.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness it isn't just me! I feel a bit better now. :) I've also been searching the Internet looking for a solution to this same Phase III biscuit problem. While I love Alton's show and own every single one of his books, I have tried to make this Phase III biscuit recipe four times, and each time it has come out exactly as you described (i.e., a complete and total sticky disaster). He says in the recipe that the dough will be sticky. That would be fine except for the fact that it's not just a bit sticky, it's insanely sticky to the point of being completely unworkable. If you make this recipe you're going to be stuck either making "drop biscuits" which I don't particularly care for, or loading it up with so much additional flour that it tastes flat. I've found that it takes almost another entire cup of flower to get this dough to the point where it's workable. I double dog dare Alton or anyone else to try making this recipe, exactly as printed in the book, and not end up with a gooey unworkable mess. There has to be an error in this recipe (as printed). After four attempts precisely weighing, processing and combing all ingredients as instructed, I am convinced that there is no other explanation.

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