This morning ‘the improvised life’s essential-to-its-being assistant Sarah* walked in with a surprise gift: a basket of warm cream biscuits that she’d baked herself and brought on the train from Brooklyn. Everything stopped! and we pulled out the French butter laced with fleur de sel and slathered it on… then we tried the biscuits with the Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade that Sarah also thought to bring, from Brooklyn-based Anarchy in a Jar (“the revolution starts in your mouth”).
The biscuits were airy, almost ethereal with the richness and flavor only butter and cream can give, and a slight crunch outside. Sarah found the recipe a couple of years ago on Smitten Kitchen (who adapted them from the great James Beard) and tried it after she had tried – and failed - making classic butter-based biscuits. “I just couldn’t make that butter thing happen right” to achieve the proper texture.”And they’re impossible to make in the summer if you don’t have air conditioning, because you can’t keep the butter cold.” So she searched out other options. With cream biscuits you just stir heavy cream into sifted flour spiked with a little baking powder, salt and a smidge of sugar. Once you’ve cut the dough into rounds, you dunk or brush them with melted butter, then bake ‘em.
They are REALLY REALLY divine. (And we love that they are the happy result of something that didn’t work leading to something that did, BIG-TIME.
So we’ve reprinted Smitten Kitchen’s recipe here – “three minutes to assemble, 12 minutes to bake”‘ – figuring the the perfect weekend pleasure. We recommend serving them warm with really great butter (if you can’t buy it, make it!). We’re also thinking cream biscuits would make a great Strawberry Shortcake. (Once strawberry season really gets going, buy some full-tilt strawberries, halve them, put in a bowl and sprinkle with a little sugar and lemon juice; let sit until the juices run. Then whip some heavy cream. When you’re ready for dessert, split the biscuits and layer in strawberries and whipped cream…) Blackberries would work. Or use our Strawberry-Rhubarb Confit recipe instead of strawberries…
Recipe: Cream Biscuits
Adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery
The original recipe has you brush your baking sheet with melted butter (and increases the amount by two tablespoons) but for whatever reason, the butter not covered by biscuits just got smoky in my oven so I’m voting for you to just line your sheets with parchment. If you find dipping the biscuits in butter difficult (hard to grasp if the dough is soft), just brush them generously instead.
Made about 10 biscuits, perhaps a dozen if I had been stricter about the height and scrap-usage
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt butter in a small pot or microwave dish, and set aside. Sift two cups flour, the baking powder, salt and (if using) sugar into a large bowl. Fold in 1 1/4 cups cream. If the dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in the remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little. (I ended up using two additional tablespoons, or half the unused cream.)
Turn dough onto a floured surface, mound it into a ball and, using your hands, press it to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cut into rounds, 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds. Dip the top of each round in melted butter and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately, or flash freeze for future use. [Biscuits can be baked straight from the freezer, and additional few minutes baking time will be needed, usually around 3 to 5.]
*Sarah is the Board Chair of SAFER, an anti-violence organization focused on changing how colleges prevent and respond to sexual violence.