High Country Baking: Biscuits that can be made ahead
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan and cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Martha Stewart may be in the kitchen at dawn, squeezing fresh orange juice, but I can’t get up to make breakfast before the sun is high and there are signs of life in the rest of the house. No, I’m not a morning person. So, I have problems with the first meal of the day when we have overnight guests.
One solution: These make-ahead breakfast muffins. They are light, buttery little morsels that, served warm with jam, add a lot of sunshine to the start of the day. And, halleluiah! Because you can freeze them prior to baking, they can be prepared a month ahead of time! I make a dozen or two, stick them in the freezer, and when I want to serve them, I just turn on the oven, pull out the number I need, and they’re on the table 20 minutes later.
Of course, these biscuits can be baked right after you make them if you choose to do so. And they can be served any time of day; they’re not restricted to the morning meal.
It takes less than 15 minutes of active time to prepare them; the recipe is quite straightforward. But there are a few things to keep in mind if you want them to be tender and light: First, don’t overwork the dough; barely bring it together and handle it as gently as you would a newborn baby. Avoid the rolling pin; instead, pat it into shape, applying as little pressure as possible. Second, use butter that is very cold. And lastly, chill the unbaked biscuits before putting them in the oven.
Make ahead breakfast biscuits
(Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.)
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 teaspoons baking powder
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk, divided
Preheat the oven to 440 degrees, with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a cookie sheet with nonstick aluminum foil, parchment paper or a silicone mat, and set it aside. Check to make sure your butter is cold. If necessary, cut it into 12 pieces and place them in the freezer for 5 minutes or so.
Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until well-combined. If you haven’t already done so, cut the unsalted butter into 12 pieces, scatter them over the dry ingredients, and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Remove the dough from the food processor, and dump it into a mixing bowl.
To do this step by hand: Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl until well-combined. Cut the butter into small pieces (12 or more), and add them to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender, two knives, a fork or your fingertips, blend in the butter until the pieces are the size of small peas.
Using a fork, stir in 3/4 cup of milk, stopping when the dough is moistened. If the dough seems too dry, add another tablespoon or two (one at a time) of milk until all of the dough is in moist clumps. (It’s better to have dough that is too moist than dough that is too dry.) Turn the dough out onto a floured countertop or sheet of waxed paper and gently knead it a few times, only until it comes together. Pat it into a rectangle, approximately 6 inches by 8 inches and about 3/4 of an inch thick.
Use a knife or a bench scraper to cut the dough into 12 equal-sized squares. Trim the edges where necessary to create a precise square. Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, placing them at least an inch apart. Brush the tops lightly with milk, and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer or refrigerator, and chill the unbaked biscuits until they are quite firm. If you aren’t serving them immediately, freeze them at this point. Once they are frozen, transfer them to a resealable plastic bag for storage. When you’re ready to serve them, bake them straight from the freezer.
Bake until the biscuits are golden, have risen well and are dry in the center (check by inserting a toothpick in one). For biscuits that are chilled but not frozen, this takes about 15 minutes in my oven; frozen biscuits require a few minutes longer. Cool slightly on the baking sheet, and serve.
Makes 12 square biscuits.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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