Flaky Chamomile Buttermilk Biscuits
Good morning, everyone! I thought this time I'd post something a little different since, so far, I've only focused on desserts. A little too often I like having a warm, fresh pastry for breakfast, and these biscuits are a recent favorite. They're inspired by the Lavender Biscuits at 3 Little Figs, a local cafe. I chose a completely different texture, but the inspiration came from the cafe's use of dried flowers and their addition of a sweet icing. Coming from the South, I've never iced a biscuit before, but I love the result! The tart, savory flavor of the buttermilk pairs beautifully with the richness of the butter, the herbal chamomile, and the sweet coating.
Infusing the dough and icing with chamomile was simple enough. I just steeped some dried flowers into the buttermilk, melted butter, and milk until fragrant. If you can't find whole dried chamomile, you can substitute it with pure chamomile tea (it's actually the same thing). Just remove the loose tea from the bags before steeping to best distribute the flavor.
While this infusion works well with drop biscuits, too, I prefer giant flaky, pull-apart layers. They take just a little extra effort, and the texture is totally worth it. The difference is in how you incorporate the butter. Instead of tossing in pea-sized bits, you coat thin, dime-sized pieces of butter with your chilled flour mixture, then smash them into even thinner sheets with your fingers. The flour coating is to keep them from melting in your hands. Once the butter and buttermilk have been incorporated and you've formed a shaggy dough, just pat it into a rectangle, then fold it into thirds like a letter. Turn the dough and repeat two more times in order to create a layered effect. The finished product is similar to a laminated dough (for croissants and danishes); it's just less defined. The layers of dough and butter will separate as they bake to create a perfectly flaky biscuit.
I love the soothing, earthy flavor of chamomile tea and how it comes to life in a totally different way with these biscuits. Give them a try next Sunday morning, or make an infusion with any other kind of dried flower or loose tea - rose, earl grey, lavender, and even chai - it's up to your imagination. Enjoy!
Chamomile Buttermilk Biscuits
Yields 8 large biscuits (plus 1 scrap biscuit)
1 cup (226 grams; 2 sticks) unsalted butter (will reduce to ~200 g; see Note 1)
1 3/4 cups (410 milliliters) buttermilk (will reduce to 1 1/2 C; see Note 1)
4 tablespoons (4 grams) dried chamomile flowers (or 4 bags of pure chamomile herbal tea)
4 cups (600 grams) all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons (13 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) baking soda
2 teaspoons (8 grams) salt
3 tablespoons (3 grams) dried chamomile flowers (or 3 tea bags)
2.5 fluid ounces (70 milliliters) whole milk
2 cups (300 grams) powdered sugar
In a microwave-safe bowl or over medium heat in a sauce pan, melt the butter. Slightly crush 2 grams (2 tablespoons) of the chamomile flowers in between your fingers and add them to the butter. Stir, then allow the mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, gently warm the buttermilk for 20-30 seconds in the microwave or over medium low heat in a non-reactive (see Note 2) sauce pan, just until warm to the touch. Don’t scald the buttermilk! Then in similar fashion, slightly crush 2 more grams of the chamomile flowers between your fingers and add them to the buttermilk. Stir and allow the mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes. Once the butter and buttermilk mixtures have steeped, strain them separately through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth into clean bowls. Make sure the butter is in a bowl lined with plastic wrap so that you can easily remove it later. And press the dried flowers to release as much liquid as possible. Some of each liquid will be absorbed by the chamomile - see Note 1. Also, some small pieces of chamomile will make it through the strainer, and the butter and buttermilk will be discolored, but that's normal. Discard the flowers and chill both mixtures until the buttermilk is very cold and the butter has solidified. You can do this a couple of days in advance.
When ready to bake, line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and set aside. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set in the freezer to chill. Remove the butter from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Using a sharp knife, slice the butter block into thin shavings (about 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick). Then, coat the butter slices and your fingers in the flour mixture you just made, and squish the butter into very thin sheets about the size of a quarter. It's okay if they're uneven or smaller than a quarter. You just want lots of flat, thin sheets of butter instead of thick, pea-sized pieces. Toss the butter into the flour mixture, stir, then place the entire bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Once cold, remove the flour mixture from the freezer and make a well in the center. Pour in most of the cold buttermilk and stir the mixture together with a your hands or a stiff spatula to combine. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to get all of the dry ingredients. If the dough is still to dry to hold together when squeezed in your hands, pour in the rest of the buttermilk and mix.
Once a shaggy dough comes together, dump it onto a floured work surface. Dust some flour on your hands and pat the dough into a rectangle. Gently fold the rectangle in thirds like you would a letter (similarly to making puff pastry and croissant doughs). Turn the dough clockwise 90 degrees, and flatten it back into a rectangle. Fold it in thirds again, turn it clockwise another 90 degrees, flatten it, then fold it in thirds one more time. At this point you will have really worked the gluten in the flour, and the dough may start to feel tough. Place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to relax.
Finally, pat the dough on a floured surface into a rectangle about 1 1/2 inches (4 centimeters) thick. These will be very tall biscuits. If you don’t want them that large, you can roll the dough out a little thinner and cut more biscuits. Using a very sharp knife or a square cookie cutter, cut out 8 biscuits. You’ll want to cut straight down in a quick motion in order to cleanly cut through the layers of butter and flour. Otherwise, the edges will be smeared and the layers won’t be as well defined while baking. And if you’re using a knife, be sure to trim every side of the biscuits for the same reason. If you leave a rough folded edge, the biscuit layers won’t separate as well while baking. Press the scraps together into a spare biscuit, then place them on the prepared baking sheet and bake on the middle rack until browned, about 20 minutes. If you're making thinner biscuits, reduce the cook time by 5 minutes and keep an eye on them. If the biscuits start to brown too much before they're thoroughly baked, loosely cover them with a piece of aluminum foil until they're finished. Remove them from the oven and place on a cooling rack over a baking tray.
While the biscuits are baking, add the dried chamomile to the milk and heat it for 15-30 seconds in the microwave until hot. Stir, then allow the milk to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the infused milk into the powdered sugar, press any remaining milk out of the flowers, and whisk the icing until smooth. It will seem very thick, but it will spread out nicely on the warm biscuits.
Once the biscuits have baked and cooled for about 5 minutes, spoon the icing on top of each one. Let it spread out and drip down the sides. If the biscuits are on a cooling rack over a baking tray, the tray will catch any drips. Let the icing stiffen for a couple of minutes, then serve warm.
- You'll start out with 2 sticks (226 grams) of butter and 1 3/4 cups buttermilk. But after straining the steeped, melted butter and milk, you should be left with 200 grams and 1 1/2 cups, respectively. This is because some of each will be absorbed by the discarded chamomile flowers. Remeasure your butter and buttermilk after straining them. If you have less than 200 grams and 1 1/2 cups, respectively, add enough plain butter and buttermilk to make up the difference. Don't worry - the insignificant amount of plain substitutes won't noticeably reduce the chamomile flavor in the finished biscuits.
- If warming the buttermilk in a saucepan, make sure that it is either stainless steel or enameled. Don't use unlined copper, aluminum, or a pan with a chipped finish. The acid in the buttermilk will react to those metals.