Dead Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits

biscuit

It was hubbie Lee who first introduced me to the joys of biscuits.

Being a Southerner, he was accustomed to biscuits of all kinds, the best being those made by Mamaw, of course.

In the early days of our courtship, he cooked me a batch of his “bachelor special,” which consisted of green beans and stewed tomatoes on a Pillsbury biscuit.

I don’t know if it was his culinary prowess, or the addictive nature of that poppin’ fresh dough, but I was hooked.

Thereafter, if we ate in on the weekends, chances were high that breakfast would feature a canister of biscuit dough, fresh from the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Then at some point I got around to reading the list of ingredients. Nothing too surprising I suppose, but definitely a whole lot of things that Mamaw never would have used.

Things like partially hydrogenated soy bean oil, propylene glycol alginate, mono and diglycerides, TBHQ and the like. Albeit in very minute quantities, but still. It just seemed unnecessary for something that is basically flour, fat, liquid, salt and baking powder.

It was this line of thinking that eventually started me down the path of baking.

Except for the random boxed mix over the years, I had virtually no experience in the fine art of baking. The learning curve was steep.

It was years before I worked up the courage to try biscuits, and then it turned out to be sort of a bummer. All the recipes I came across involved cutting chilled butter or shortening into flour, which I found tedious and messy and kind of annoying.

Ok I know, first world problems, but I guess I wanted something sort of like Bisquick, that I could just throw together whenever I got the hankering for biscuits, but you know, without all the trans fat.

So I gave up on biscuits for a time and focused my culinary efforts elsewhere.

Until a year or so ago, when I came across a recipe for these cream biscuits on Serious Eats. They had just two ingredients, self-rising flour and whipping cream! Ok yes, self-rising flour has salt and baking powder in it, so technically four ingredients. But no butter! At least in solid form. It was actually in there, in liquid form, hidden in the whipping cream.

What this meant was no irksome cutting of butter into flour. All you had to do was give the ingredients a quick stir and boom, instant biscuit dough.

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit! (Or don’t. It’s up to you.) Finally a biscuit that could roll with my lazy ways.

I had to try them right away, and I was sold. It took a couple of tries to get the hang of them, and a little experimenting with flour types. Eventually I found another version of cream biscuits on Cook’s Illustrated, which is now my go to recipe. Of course they are not as good as Mamaw’s, but we have officially retired the Doughboy.

Dead Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Recipe Notes: The original recipe calls for White Lily, self-rising flour, which they do not sell around these parts. So I tried a few different flour types. All purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour produce a fine, if rather delicate biscuit. White whole wheat flour, on the other hand, makes for a much sturdier biscuit, which is ideal for stuffing full of all sorts of goodies, our preferred mode of biscuit consumption. The dough is rather wet, and sticky. If it misbehaves too badly, add a bit more flour. These are easy enough that I usually just make a half batch for immediate consumption. But one of these days, when I have a bit of free time, I plan to make a double batch, cut the biscuits, freeze them on trays, then store them in a ziplock until needed. I, for one, don’t always have whipping cream on hand, but I recently discovered shelf stable whipping cream from Trader Joe’s, which does the trick quite nicely. I’m going to stock up next time I go!

2 cups white whole wheat flour plus extra for the counter

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Instructions

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead the dough briefly until smooth, about 30 seconds.

3. Shape the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick circle. Cut biscuits into rounds or wedges (for biscuits, use a biscuit cutter, for wedges, simply cut the dough circle into wedges like a pizza). Place rounds or wedges on parchment-lined baking sheet. (The baking sheet can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.) Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking (although I never do this step and they turn out just fine).

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Whole Wheat No Knead Bread Recipe Fail

A whole lotta brown.

A whole lotta brown.

So I totally reached a new level of nerdom – I called the King Arthur Flour baking hotline for help.

I was desperate. It was my first go at whole wheat no knead bread and while it looked nice enough, it tasted weirdly…tangy. More like sourdough, with a sort of chemical finish. Not what I was going for at all.

What I was going for was a nice, soft sandwich loaf, sweetened with honey, from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, via the King Arthur Flour blog. I’ve had my share of bread disasters in the past, but the recipe seemed easy enough, so I gave it a try.

I love the idea of baking our own bread, but traditional breads seem just a little too fiddly for the chaos around here. Many breads require a period of kneading, then rising, then kneading again, then rising again, often on a strict time table, which is tough to stick to when you have a two year old running around. Can I get a what what?

So I was pretty much resigned to buying our usual bland, squishy loaf at the supermarket, until I came across abin5, somewhere in my internet travels. For the first time, making bread from scratch on a regular basis actually seemed doable.

It combines the flexibility of no knead bread and the efficiency of baking in bulk.

Like the loaf that started the no knead craze, this one depends on a long rise to develop flavor. The cool thing about no knead breads is that the rise, though long, is often quite flexible. The dough for the whole wheat loaf above, for instance, can stay in the fridge for up to seven days, and some can stay in there up to two weeks!

They can handle a little neglect, which is what I look for in a loaf of bread.

But what really sold me on the abin5 breads is a neat little trick – instead of making just a single loaf, it has you make enough dough for multiple loaves. You bake one right away, and keep the rest in the fridge, ready to go, until needed. Then you just lop off a chunk when you need a fresh loaf and throw it in the oven. It saves you a bit of work.

Anyhoo, I followed the directions pretty closely, but I substituted Fleischmann’s RapidRise yeast for the saf instant yeast recommended on the King Arthur Flour website. I figured they were roughly equivalent. Boy howdy, was I wrong!

After my nerdy call to the King Arthur baking hotline (the baker I talked to was suuuuper nice by the way), I learned that RapidRise is really intended for just a single, short rise, after which you throw it in the oven. It is definitely not intended for a 2 hour rise at room temperature and an overnight rise in the fridge. And in my case, the initial rise at room temperature was more like 3 or 4 hours, because I, umm, kinda forgot about it.

(Incidentally, I did some scouting around on the web and found some confusing info on yeast. For the most part, there are three types of yeast – fresh, active dry and instant. Instant yeasts do not need to be dissolved in liquid prior to using, they can be added directly to the dry ingredients. There are all kinds of instant yeasts, including bread machine yeast and pizza yeast. RapidRise, which is made by Fleischmann’s, is also considered an instant yeast, but it’s like instant yeast on steroids, the rise is powerful and aggressive. I noticed Red Star has something called Quick Rise, not sure if it behaves the same as Fleischmann’s RapidRise, but the website does caution against use in refrigerated or frozen dough baking. The kitchn and Wikipedia actually put rapid rise yeasts into their own category, though it’s not clear if anything other than Fleischmann’s RapidRise falls under that category. To make things even more confusing, the King Arthur Flour website notes that while it used to be that you had to dissolve active dry yeast in liquid first, the way it is processed now allows you to skip that step, apparently you can add it directly to the dry ingredients. Sheesh.).

So my dough was over fermented by the time I baked the loaf, and even more so by the time I baked the second loaf about three days later. The first loaf was sour, but not unpleasant with a goodly smear of butter. The second loaf, however, was vile, so I chucked it. Fail!

I do plan to try again, but with the saf instant yeast recommended on the King Arthur Flour blog. (And how is the saf instant yeast different than all the other instant yeasts out there? Not totally sure, even after all that digging around I am still a little confused, but it worked for King Arthur, so hey, that is good enough for me. I thought about substituting good ‘ol active dry, since that is the easiest to find, but I’m kinda chicken after my last experiment so it might be a while before I work up the courage to do it). Of course, we live out in the boondocks and none of the stores around these parts carry the stuff, so further tests are on hiatus until I get me some.