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Baking Powder Biscuits—Drop Biscuits
A Scrumptious Coffeecake
Baking mixes, those boxed mixes that make pancakes, biscuits, scones and muffins, etc., do save time (although not much). However, if you're feeling frantic and trying to get something on the table, or if you're being creative with a child and helping him or her discover the joys of mixing and cooking, the availability of a mix might make the process seem less complicated and more "do-able." In one sense, mixes give you a sense of control and participation in the baking process. But in another—since, in commercial mixes, someone else has decided what's going to go into them—your control over the ingredients (some of which aren't readily recognizable) has been eliminated. And for this you pay a premium. So—if any of these issues are important to you, here's what to do.
King Arthur's Unbleached All-Purpose Baking Mix
First we'll explain how to make the equivalent of a large box (about 40 ounces) of baking mix, which can be stored on your pantry shelf. The trick here is to use a fat or shortening which is stable at room temperature. When you do, you have a combination that will keep for several months. After this we'll give you some ideas on how to customize this mix so it's completely your own.
9 cups (2 pounds, 6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose FlourWays to Customize Your Baking Mix
5 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup (6 1/2 ounces) vegetable shortening
—You can substitute up to 50% King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour, Traditional or White Whole Wheat for the unbleached all-purpose flour. This will mean the mix should be stored in the freezer; otherwise whole wheat flour will go rancid.
—Replace 1 cup of the unbleached all-purpose flour with 1 or more cups of the following: rye, buckwheat or oat flour; or 2 cups thick oat flakes, barley flakes or rye flakes. Store this mixture in the freezer as well.
—For a heartier blend, substitute 1 or 2 cups of our Ancient Grains Blend flour.
—For even more nutrition, for each cup of flour, replace 2 tablespoons flour with 2 tablespoons wheat germ, wheat or other bran, and/or soy flour.
—Eliminate the shortening and use an appropriate fat when you're putting your pancakes, muffins, etc. together.
Putting Your Mix Together
Take a few minutes to decide on what you want to put in your mix, remembering that you can dress up a basic mix with some "Defining Ingredients" (which you'll read about farther on).
In a large bowl, blend together the dry ingredients. Then, with a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut or rub in the vegetable shortening until it is evenly distributed and the resulting mixture looks like cracker crumbs. That's all there is to it.
Storing Your Mix
Place the mix in a large, airtight container (a heavy duty zip-lock type plastic bag does nicely) or divide it into pre-measured 2 cup (don't pack it) portions. It will make approximately 7 portions.
The advantage of store-bought mixes is that they don't contain anything that will deteriorate at room temperature. When you start mixing in whole grains, you are introducing the perishable oils that you find in the germ of the grains. If you decide to put any of these in your mix, it's best to store it in an airtight container in the freezer (not a large price to pay for a high-nutrition customized blend.)
What You Can Do With Your Mix
We are limiting the options to things which require a minimum of additional ingredients. Some commercial mixes give you choices that involve adding more of what is already in the mix plus enough other stuff that you might as well be starting from scratch—which defeats the purpose.
We'll start with doughs, which requires adding the least amount of liquid, and then move to batters, which require more.
Baking Powder Biscuits
These light, crisp biscuits make a welcome addition to any meal, whether they're served with butter and honey for breakfast, or to sop up the "essence" of the evening meal left on the plate. You'll find some interesting ideas for additions to biscuits under "Savory Scones" below.
2 cups baking mix plus 1/2 cup milk (about 12 biscuits) That's about as simple as you can get.
OR 3 cups baking mix plus 3/4 cup milk (about 18 biscuits)
OR 4 cups baking mix plus 1 cup milk (about 24 biscuits)
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
Put the mix in a mixing bowl and pour the cold milk over the surface. With a fork, blend the two together, taking no more than 20 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead it about 10 times. It's this gentle handling that will keep the gluten asleep and make tender biscuits.
Shape the dough into a flattened round and, with a floured rolling pin (or your fingertips), roll it out until it's between 1/2- and 3/4-inch thick.
Traditionally biscuits are round. Dip a biscuit or cookie cutter in flour and press straight down into the dough without twisting. By doing it this way, you shear the edges of the dough rather than squeezing them together. This allows the biscuits to rise higher when they bake. Make your cuts as close together as possible to minimize what's left over. You can either shape the leftover dough into rough shapes with your fingers, or gather it up and roll it out again. Dough that's been rolled twice will make tougher biscuits.
To avoid any waste, cut the dough into either wedges or squares. No matter which way you do it, there will probably be a few "ugly" ducklings that will taste just as good as their more perfectly shaped siblings.
After your biscuits are shaped, bake them for about 15 minutes.
These are the same as rolled biscuits but contain more liquid, about 3/4 cup total per cup of mix. This makes a dough too soft to be rolled out, but still a dough rather than a batter. This can be dropped by the heaping tablespoonful onto a lightly floured or parchment-lined baking sheet, or into a greased muffin tin to make slightly moister and more regular biscuits. (This method also avoids kneading, rolling and cutting.) Bake as for rolled biscuits.
Dumplings make a soup or stew a meal and, with a bit more sweetening, they can be added to stewed fruit as well.
Make up dough as for drop biscuits. Bring your soup or stew to a boil and then lower the temperature until it's bubbling gently. Dip a soup spoon or cookie scoop first into the broth, then scoop out some dough and place it in the broth. Continue until the surface is covered, allowing room, half an inch between dumplings, for expansion. Cover and simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. To serve, spoon a couple of dumplings into a soup bowl and ladle the soup, stew or fruit over them.
Scones are really biscuits with a British heritage and a larger wardrobe. When you think of biscuits, what comes first to mind is the traditional baking powder biscuit. When you think of scones, the tendency is to ask "what kind?" The basic recipe is essentially the same, although in general, we think of biscuits as savory and scones as sweet. And scones, more frequently than not, contain additional ingredients that give them a specific character. Here's how to make them with our mix.
First preheat your oven to 450°F. Scones tend to be a little larger than biscuits. You'll make about 4 scones per 1 cup of mix. To each cup of mix, add any combination of Defining Ingredients before adding 1/4 cup milk. For a richer scone, use half-and-half instead of milk.
(amount given is per cup of mix)
—Traditional British scones contain currants or raisins. American versions often include fresh fruit such as blueberries, chopped cranberries, apples or peaches. Use about 1/4 cup per cup of mix.
—Add one teaspoon of your favorite spice, either alone or in combination.
—For crunch, add 1/2 cup nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
—For zest, add 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel (or 3 or 4 drops lemon or orange oil added to water or milk rather than dry mix).
—This one will be a travesty to traditionalists but will put a gleam in the eye of those with a sweet tooth; add 1/3 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/3 cup chocolate chips. With some additional pecans or walnuts, this is a special treat for a special person's teatime.
Any of these, alone or in combination, are good additions to a cup of mix for either scones, biscuits or dumplings.
1/3 cup grated cheese Mixing, Cutting and Baking
1 teaspoon fresh herbs (or 1/3 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup chopped bacon or other cured meat
Put the scones together the way you would biscuits, adding any "defining ingredients" to the dry ingredients before you add the wet.
Mix, knead, and roll as you would biscuits. Scones are traditionally cut into wedges, which avoids the waste issue. Place them on a lightly floured or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.
Muffins are generally wetter and sweeter than biscuits or scones, so will require a few more additions to our mix. But this is as complicated as we'll get. Much more than this and the advantages of a mix are lost. In this case the extra time spent in adding ingredients (in the cosmic sense, this may not be much of an issue!) is balanced by not having to "knead, roll, and cut." Two cups of mix will make a dozen small to medium muffins.
2 cups baking mix Get some ideas from "Defining Ingredients" under Scones for ways to dress up your muffins.
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
1 cup (8 ounces) milk
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Grease a muffin tin, or line the wells with muffin papers.
Put the mix in a mixing bowl. Blend in the sugar. At this point add any dry "Defining Ingredients." Beat the egg with the milk and stir gently into the mix, taking only 20 seconds. This is important. No matter how lumpy, resist the temptation to stir until the lumps are gone. You'll wind up with tennis balls if you don't.
Using a 1/3 cup measure or a cookie scoop, fill the cups of a muffin tin 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake at 450°F for about 15 minutes.
To save even more time, mix up the batter and pour it into a greased 8-inch cake pan and bake for about 25 minutes at 400°F.
A Scrumptious Coffeecake
This takes the muffin-in-the-cake-pan concept one step further. For this you'll need a tube pan.
Topping This is made first since some of it is incorporated into the cake itself. If you have a blender or coffee grinder, this can be done very quickly. After the nuts are ground, mix with the brown sugar and spice (you can even make some of this mixture ahead, and refrigerate it for future use).
1 cup (3 7/8 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped or ground
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Batter Preheat your oven to 350°F.
3 cups baking mix
1/2 cup (3 1/3 ounces) sugar
1 1/3 cups (10 3/8 ounces) milk
2 large eggs
Put the batter together as described for Muffins. Grease the bottom and sides of the tube pan. Put about 1/2 the batter in the bottom. Sprinkle 1/3 of the topping over this and swirl it in gently with a fork. Put the remaining batter on top and sprinkle on another 1/3 of the topping.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the coffeecake cool for about ten minutes after it has baked. Turn it out onto a serving platter, sprinkle on the remaining topping and serve.
1 large egg In a mixing bowl, beat the egg and milk together until the mixture is light. Stir in the mix until it's just moistened; about 20 seconds of blending will do it. Don't try to get out all the lumps or the pancakes will be tough and rubbery. Any lumps won't be perceptible in the pancakes themselves.
1 to 1 1/4 cups milk (depending on how thick or thin you like your pancakes)
2 cups baking mix (spooned lightly into a measuring cup)
To cook pancakes most successfully, use a griddle that heats and holds the heat evenly. Cast iron is particularly good for this. Preheat your griddle and grease it lightly. Since cast iron needs to be seasoned on an ongoing basis, it's best to use a light film of vegetable oil, shortening or even butter for the first batch. If your griddle is well seasoned, you may not need to use any grease at all. Just remember to wipe the surface of the griddle off after you've finished cooking, and if it appears dry, wipe it again with a bit of oil before you put it away. This keeps the seasoning intact and keeps air from the surface, which can make it rusty.
When the griddle is the right temperature, a few drops of water will "dance" on the surface. Use a 1/4-cup measure, or a large cookie or ice cream scoop, and pour batter onto the griddle, leaving room for expansion. Turn the pancakes when a few of the bubbles that appear on the surface don't fill in. The second side will cook in about half the time the first side takes.
The pancake recipe can also be used to make waffles. If your waffle iron is not nonstick (and often even if it is) you'll need to apply a thin film of grease before you pour on the batter. This can be done easily with a pastry brush (or use a nonstick vegetable spray). Unlike a griddle, a waffle iron needs greasing before each waffle is baked to prevent sticking (a grim prospect for those of you who have had the pleasure of removing a waffle that has bonded to the iron).
Although waffle irons differ, a waffle usually cooks in 2 to 4 minutes. When steam stops pouring out from under the lid, check to see if it's done. If the top doesn't want to lift up, it probably needs another minute or two. A well-seasoned iron will "let go" of the waffle when it's done.
Waffles are best eaten right from the iron if you like them crisp. They tend to soften if you stockpile them like pancakes.
Variations for Pancakes and Waffles
Here's how to dress up the basic mix, for variety, or to celebrate the season.
—To make extra-light pancakes or waffles, separate the egg(s), beat only the yolk(s) into the liquid ingredients, beat the white(s) until you have stiff peaks and fold in last.
—Sprinkle cinnamon on the pancake before you flip it over (or on the waffle before you close the lid of the iron).
—Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon (per cup of mix) directly to the mix.
—Fold in 1/2 cup (per cup of mix) mashed or chopped banana, berries or other fruits.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 4, March-April 1992 issue.