Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Breakfast Party”

The Set-up: Ina has decided to reclaim breakfast as a time to entertain friends.

The Menu: Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits, Easy Strawberry Jam, Slow-Cooked Scrambled Eggs with Herbs, Juice of a Few Flowers

0:26 – I think Ina might be a morning person, whereas I am assuredly not, but even she doesn’t want to get up early to make Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits, so the baking will take place tomorrow morning.

1:13 – Pro Tip #1: Reeeeally cold ingredients – cold butter, cold buttermilk, cold eggs, cold cheese – make for light, flaky biscuits. It’s possible this might be the Pro Tip to rule them all.

2:40 – These biscuits also have baking powder in them to help with the fluff factor.

3:17 – Sharp cheddar is my all-time favorite cheese and the block Ina is grating has that dry, crumbly look aged cheddar gets. Pro Tip #2: Toss the shredded cheese with a little flour to help it distribute in the dough.

4:22 – I noticed that Ina just barely mixes the wet ingredients and cheese into the butter and flour. I wonder if it gets tough otherwise?

5:34 – It’s dough rolling time! A little patting, a little kneading and then the biscuits hang out on a sheet pan over night until it’s time to bake.

6:27 – Ina says she’s doing this breakfast party to demonstrate to her friend Frank how easy it is to entertain in the morning. #pointtoprove

9:09 – Okay, onto the Easy Strawberry Jam, which Ina is making in advance too. Is it any wonder she eventually would write a cookbook called Make it Ahead?

10:38 – First things first, a metric ton of strawberries plus superfine sugar, Grand Marnier, and surprisingly half of a peeled and diced Granny Smith apple. I’ve never made jam, but the pectin in the apple seems to be a necessary ingredient?

11:15 – More surprises, the strawberry jam will also have a small amount of blueberries for depth of flavor and color. Is that even legal!?

12:42 – Anywho, more to-do list items that Ina accomplishes the night before in order to make the next day run smoothly: set up the coffee, put out butter to soften, set the table. The jam is done, and now Ina is off to bed!

13:21 – The sun is up and so is Ina, off to the bakery to pick up some croissant for the jam. No need to make everything!

17:08 – Stephen has arrived on the scenes and has been set to grating cheddar for the biscuit topping.

18:46 – Ina demos egg wash and Stephen reveals that his mother never made biscuits, which makes the boozy cocktail they’re about to make all the more necessary. Self-medication you know.

19:50 – Juice of a Few Flowers involves orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime juice but I guess no vodka? What happen to that bottle of Grand Marnier?

20:54 – Ina is going to rim the edges in sugar, so I suppose that will have to do, and it certainly is more festive.

21:43 – Stephen channels his inner Tom Cruise with the cocktail shaker while Ina takes the biscuits out of the oven. Mmmm those cocktails look awesome.

25:35 – Onward to the Slow-Cooked Scrambled Eggs with Herbs and Stephen wisely asks Ina to show him how she likes herbs to be chopped before attempting the task for himself. I hear you man, I’d ask too!

26:49 – Ina says everyone should know how to make scrambled eggs and offers Pro Tip #3: keeping the liquid to a minimum so the eggs aren’t watery.

27:58 – Stephen wants to know if it’s possible to over beat scrambled eggs, I mean technically yes but I bet his arm gets tired before they’re even remotely close to the danger zone.

28:16 – Ina shares that she switched to scrambled eggs after a disastrous breakfast party when she tried to make individual omelets for 20 people. “How hard is that!?” Pro Tip #4: cook the eggs slowly over very low heat to keep them from getting tough.

29:51 – And just like that, breakfast is done! Stephen and Ina decide to drink first, eat later. Cheers!

Final Thoughts:
The trick to morning parties seems to be doing everything the night before. Noted.

I’d like to make my own jam some day, but even with Ina’s guidance it seems intimidating!

Pretty sure those cocktails could have been made breakfast-appropriate even with a little sparkling wine…

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
This year I resolved to practice my pie crust – PS: there’s a reason your grandmother makes the best pies, it’s because she’s had 60+ years to perfect her technique! Since tarts, scones and biscuits are close relations I figure it’s all relevant to the process. Also, a batch of Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits sounded like an amazing addition to our dinner, especially one that involves short ribs (watch this spot for next week’s installment.) Here’s what I learned…

Cold Ingredients – Cold ingredients are essential to a light and flaky biscuit. I’ve made the mistake in the past of not respecting this cardinal rule, but this time I was determined to do it right! I even put the rolled and cut biscuits on a sheet pan in the refrigerator while I mixed the egg wash and did a little tidying. I’d recommend working quickly, keeping the ingredients in the refrigerator in between steps, and resisting the urge to overwork or handle the dough too much. Making these on a cooler day will also help.

Dough Mixing – I skipped the stand mixer altogether and just used a pastry cutter to combine the butter with the flour, and then a regular table fork to fold the liquid ingredients and cheese into the butter mixture. Mixing this relatively small amount of dough doesn’t take a lot of effort and made it easier for me to prevent over-mixing.

Cheese – Ina’s trick of tossing the shreds in a little flour works perfectly. The strands don’t stick together and each bite of biscuit gets that sharp, tangy flavor. Don’t skip this step!

Dough Rolling – I did technically use a rolling pin, but since biscuit are rustic by nature, and you have to do a little folding and kneading anyway, you could easily get away with just patting the dough out into a rough disk or rectangle with your hands.

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, absolutely. I used a medium mixing bowl, pastry cutter, bench scraper (great for cutting the biscuits and for cleaning off the counter), a fork, a knife, measuring cups, a rolling pin, and a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

The Verdict:
I made Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits to accompany a beef short rib dinner - more on that next week - and I’m pretty sure they stole the show from the main course. Light and fluffy inside with a buttery, (obviously) crisp crust they are amazingly good. I was initially worried that the finishing sprinkle of sea salt on top of the cheddar would push them over the edge into salty territory, but it was perfect. The fact that these can be made in a single bowl and bake up in less than 30 minutes means that they could make an appearance at anytime. Dangerous and awesome news…

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits | Image: Laura Messersmith