Grain Brains Challenge:
A recipe challenge to help you get whole grains into your mouth, not just your kitchen.
Early on in my expedition with biscuits, I had a hard time critiquing the recipes. I made a few great batches and thought where is the bad biscuit? How can you go wrong with flour and fat? Well of course you can. You can fail and fail and fail. Too much baking powder/soda, too much touching, too much liquid/fat, not enough of either.
I read the phrase “She’s got a good biscuit hand,” in a cookbook ages ago. Even though I knew it was sexist, I hoped I had one.
What is a good biscuit hand? One that is not worked up and ready to overwork the dough. But one that is not hesitant and unready to work the dough, either. From multiple sources, the rule I’ve learned is knead 10 turns. Just ten, once you turn the almost fully mixed dough out of the bowl. That kneading helps the biscuits rise ever so slightly.
As for drop vs. rolled, that extra kneading and shaping helps tenderize the dough, too. Which I learned by making drop biscuits with my favorite flour combo – cornmeal, rye and whole wheat. My mouth was already not the best from dental surgery, and these guys, well, they kinda sorta helped things for the worse.
Back to the flour. Most whole wheat biscuit recipes call for half white flour. If you want to do that, great, but I am a loyalist. I only want whole grains. Long before I saw wheat in a field or planted it in my back yard, the concept of whole foods appealed to me. Now that I’ve toured some mills and fields, I want baked goods made with as much of the grain as possible.
Stone mills leave all the parts of the grain with the flour – bran, germ and starchy endosperm. Roller mills extract the germ and bran from the kernels of grain, leaving flour white. Whole wheat flours that are roller milled have first sifted off the bran and germ, and added some of those components back to the flour.
Some stone ground flours are sifted slightly to remove a portion of the bran. This is used by artisan bakers and is called sifted, bolted, or high-extraction flour, meaning that a high percentage of the bran remains in the flour. The reason bakers want to remove the bran – aside from ancient social contracts favoring whiteness in food and other things – is that bran acts like little knives, keeping whole wheat breads from rising as remarkably as white breads.
I am not enchanted with white flour or bread. I love stone ground flours and the breads and baked goods made with them because you can taste so much more of the grain. White flour is kind of a blank slate, almost more of a structural ingredient than a flavor component. Stone ground flours have so much more flavor. They will spoil because of the oils that are released in the grinding, so buy what you can use within a few months, or store the remainder in the freezer.
Before I found New York State flours, I was thoroughly in love with King Arthur whole wheat, which is roller milled from wheats grown in the wheat belts across the country. These days I use stone ground flours, mostly from Farmer Ground Flour, which is grown organically outside of Ithaca. Sometimes I grind flour and cornmeal on my friend Howard’s bicycle powered mill.
Other New York State flours include Champlain Valley Milling, which uses stone mills for some of its products, and grains from New York State and elsewhere. North Country Mills stone mills wheat grown in a 300-mile radius from its Watertown mill.
Now, onto the biscuits. You would not believe the range of butter amounts in biscuit recipes! There is no standard ratio, but I like the ones with more fat. Biscuits are butter delivery systems. Why pretend they’re not?
My favorite biscuits are based on a recipe for Sky-High Biscuits from Bert Greene’s Grains Cookbook. My biscuits do not climb even toward the ceiling, but they do walk tall in my estimation, and oh do I enjoy them. Hope you do too.
RECIPE: WHOLE WHEAT BISCUITS
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons yogurt
- 1 cup milk
Whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together the yogurt and milk.
Cut the butter into ½ inch dice, and cut these chunks into the flour mixture. Ideally, use a pastry blender for this. You can use two knives or forks or even your fingers, but that would come close to creaming in the butter, and you do not want to do that.
You do want the butter pretty well incorporated into the flour, with some chunks remaining.
Using a fork, mix the liquids into the flour and fat. Don’t overbeat this, just get them mostly together and put it onto a lightly floured board.
Now for the 10 turns. Gently fold this dough onto itself 10 times. Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll out the dough till about ½ to ¾ inch thick. Put on a greased cookie sheet or silicone mat. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Use half rye flour, or 1/3 rye, cornmeal and ww pastry flour.