When I first started cooking, I decided I wanted to perfect biscuits. Not sure why: I wasn't raised on them. But I spent a lot of time in the South and there were good biscuits everywhere. And great ham biscuits, little sandwiches in which a sliver of ham is slipped in after baking.
The trick to flaky biscuits is the flour (our Northern flour is particularly unsuited to biscuits). To compensate, you can use ordinary all-purpose flour and hardly touch the dough. Start with a pastry blender or blunt knives to work in the butter, switch to a rubber spatula (the firm one that comes with a food processor is great for this) to work in milk you sour yourself, so they have a tangy buttermilk taste. Then use a metal or plastic scraper to work moist clumps of dough into a smooth mixture.
I make a rectangle and cut biscuits rather than stamping and rerolling, all in the interests of touching the dough as little as I can.
Here are steps to biscuits flecked with fresh thyme, for serving plain or filling with ham or smoked turkey. You'll also find instructions for turning these into sweet biscuits for strawberry shortcakes.
Instead of buttermilk, sour regular milk yourself by adding vinegar to the milk and letting it sit for a few minutes. The dough contains fresh herbs (use rosemary or thyme). To fill 24 biscuits, you need 6 large slices of good-quality ham. Spread the cut surfaces with a little mustard stirred with a teaspoon of honey. Serve these as a nibble at a picnic or with a salad as a first course. To make a plain dough for strawberry shortcakes, sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar before baking and confectioners' after filling.
1 cup whole milk, or more if necessary
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or thyme
Extra flour (for sprinkling)
1. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup milk and vinegar; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to blend them.
4. Add the butter. With a pastry blender or two blunt knives, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
5. Add the sugar and rosemary or thyme. Stir with a fork just to blend them.
6. Stir the milk. Sprinkle it over the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to gently cut the liquid into the flour mixture until the dough forms large moist clumps. If necessary, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make clumps. Don't work the dough until it forms a ball.
7. Turn the clumps out onto a lightly floured counter. Cut through them half a dozen times with a pastry scraper or blunt knife until they form a dough. Shape into a disk. With a rolling pin, roll the dough to 3/4-inch thick rectangle (about 7 1/2-by-8 1/2-inches).
8. Using a long, sharp knife, make 3 lengthwise cuts and 5 horizontal cuts to form 24 small biscuits.
9. Transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and the sides are pale brown. Sheryl Julian
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ContributorsSheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.
Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.
Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.