Bread of the Month: Ascending with angel biscuits

bisk01Oh, give me September and long light and fading days and pungent air. Fiery colors, dropping leaves, the smell of earth as she bakes, then cools. Spiders and squirrels, equally industrious. Give me September’s National Biscuit Month, and I’ll give you…biscuits, no question.

milkYeast01A biscuit is mostly considered a bread on the rise through baking powder, maybe baking soda, maybe buttermilk. But an angel biscuit is another animal, a cross between a yeast roll and your standard biscuit, rumored to be light enough to float to the heavens. According to James Villas’s “Biscuit Bliss” (2004), they are also called “brides biscuits,” as the double leavening is a near sure-fire guarantee of feather lightness for the inexperienced baker.

cuttingIn01Neither a bride nor inexperienced on the biscuit front, I still don’t mind guarantees, whenever they are available. I was curious about the angel biscuit and made a point of spending a recent Sunday morning trying them out.

All the leavening guns come forth for this angel biscuit recipe, which uses both dissolved active dry yeast and buttermilk. Dry ingredients include both baking powder and soda, into which is cut vegetable shortening, a little lighter than butter, as far as fat goes.pattin01

After the soft dough is mixed and rolled out, biscuits are cut from it in the usual fashion. The dough, though delicate, is easy enough to handle. Then, they are given time to rise (about an hour).

Once risen, the biscuits more resemble rolls, rounded and slightly spread out. But knowing what I do about ingredients, I had a notion that the finished product would taste akin to both biscuit and roll.cuttbisk01

They baked to a beautiful golden brown and the smell lived up to their celestial moniker. Pulling them from the oven, the sheet pan felt almost unbelievably light! There was only one thing to do. Make gravy.

My mother is the queen of all morning gravies. She makes a hamburger gravy, loaded with onions and garlic, black pepper, chunks of meat bathed in a thick creaminess, served over biscuits or toast or rolls. It is unmatched, and you want it for every meal. My gravy bisktowle01could only be a pale imitation, with a little bacon for flavor, onions, turkey sausage, seasonings. But heavens, these biscuits needed SOMETHING to keep them from floating off the plate!

They have the texture of the airiest roll and the taste of a tangy biscuit. They are something in between, close to heaven, or at least, aspiring.

Aren’t we all?

Angel Biscuits
From “Biscuit Bliss” by James Villas (2004)
Makes about 20 biscuits

1 envelope active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening
1 cup buttermilk

In a small bowl, combine the yeast and warm water, stir, and set aside to proof.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter or rub with your fingertips till the mixture is mealy. Add the yeast mixture and buttermilk and stir with a fork just till a soft, sticky dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, form into a ball, roll out /12-inch thick, and cut out rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Roll the scraps together and cut out more rounds. Arrange the rounds close together on a baking sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm area about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bake the biscuits in the center of the oven till golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

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