Blueberry Cardamom Biscuits & Lavender Honey

Monday, February 19, 2018

If comfort food is a form of self-care, buttermilk biscuits are warm hugs from your guardian angel. Few things are more satisfying than splitting a freshly baked biscuit in half and slathering it with jam as steam rises to the air. When you take that first, ethereal bite, you know that this is the purest form of edible love, meant to be shared with as many people as possible. Whether you've baked them to accompany brunch or Sunday dinner, only joy will follow after you've delivered a basket of hot, homemade biscuits to the table. If you're going to feel badly about eating a biscuit, don't bother. Save them for a cheat weekend or a special occasion. Biscuits aren't made to be healthy, lower in fat, dairy-free, or any of the other nonsense taking up good internet bandwidth. Bring on the real butter and White Lily flour. Find the richest, full-fat buttermilk or cream you can get your hands on, and after you bake a pan, drown those suckers in good honey. The secret to making a great biscuit is not feeling guilty about it at all.

My love affair with biscuits goes back to the first year I started working on this blog. I spent months and months trying to get that original recipe right, and a couple years later I updated it with an even better version. I've since come up with all kinds of variations, most of which never make it to a recipe because they were impromptu creations, composed of leftover odds and ends in the fridge. Most often these are savory biscuits, spruced up with herbs, leeks, cheese or bits of crumbled bacon. Lately I've had more fun with sweeter biscuits, perfect for breakfast but also a fun after-dinner treat. The biggest inspiration for this particular recipe was my blueberry cardamom pancakes, a breakfast staple. (It's worth noting here that the dry mix for my buttermilk pancakes starts out exactly like biscuits, so I often pivot into a different direction if an idea strikes.)

Cardamom is worth adding to your pantry. It's somewhat spicy and citrusy with an alluring fragrance that adds an air of mystery to whatever you put it in, like a whiff of an exotic perfume lingering in the air. I include cardamom in most of my holiday baking spice blends as it works well with cinnamon and nutmeg, but it also does very well in savory curry blends. It's one of the more expensive spices but a little bit really does go a long way.  Cardamom pairs insanely well with fruit, like this roasted mango pie, and will make everything from banana bread to pumpkin pie taste a little more interesting. If I bake anything with blueberries in it, I reach for cardamom, so when I wanted to convert my blueberry pancake recipe to biscuits, I knew what would really make them sing.

Honey is always a perfect way to finish biscuits when they're fresh out of the oven. It's nature's own, ready made glaze. As for the lavender honey, that just happens to be one of the most heavenly flavors of honey I've ever tried. I'd describe it as floral and delicately sweet. My sister picked up a jar for me when she was in Nice, France last summer, and up until now I was trying to make it last as long as possible. But it's so good, and I mean sit at the table and eat honey straight out of the jar like Winnie the Pooh good. Any honey can be infused with lavender buds, but in my experience the better lavender honey is made from bees that harvest nectar from wild lavender fields. If you have a Home Goods or TJ Maxx nearby, I've found imported lavender honey there before which was quite good, so that's another option. Don't forget you can order just about everything online these days too, especially if you're finally going to take my word for it and cop some White Lily flour! The lavender honey is a fun finish to these biscuits, but any floral honey variety would work great, such as orange blossom or wildflower. Buying locally harvested honey is an easy way to support vendors at your nearest farmer's market, and they're usually happy to tell you all about the differences between the varieties offered. So far the only honey I've come across that I didn't like was buckwheat, because it had such a strong bitter flavor.

For those who are new to homemade biscuits, all the technical questions were answered in my previous tutorials, so I won't repeat all the nitty gritty details here. These are a bit more forgiving because there's less emphasis on flaky layers, but you'll still want to use a light hand and be careful not to overwork the dough. I used my base biscuit recipe here, replacing the shortening with more butter, and stirring in a full pint of fresh blueberries. If you use a small biscuit cutter, you'll have plenty to freeze some for later. You'll love being able to pull a few blueberry biscuits out to bake when you're in the mood for a quick treat. Instructions for prep are included in the recipe, below!

Blueberry Cardamom Biscuits & Lavender Honey

3 cups White Lily* all-purpose flour, not self-rising, plus more for dusting 
1 tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp kosher salt 
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup unsalted butter (preferably European style), frozen
3/4 cup buttermilk (preferably full-fat), more as needed
1/2 cup heavy cream, more as needed
1 large egg 
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange or lemon
1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over for stems
1/3 cup lavender honey, or your favorite variety

Notes: White Lily flour is typically only available in southern grocery stores. It's made from a soft winter wheat flour. Sometimes you may find "00" pasta flour using the same wheat, just check labels. If you can't locate White Lily in stores, you can purchase online, or substitute half cake flour and half regular all-purpose flour for lighter biscuits. If all you have is regular all-purpose flour, your biscuits will be a little heavier but as long as you don't overwork the dough they'll come out okay.

Serves: Makes approximately 18 biscuits
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours

After measuring out the flour (I use the scoop and sweep method), add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and sugar. You can increase the sugar up to about 1/2 a cup if you want a sweeter biscuit, but I like to make up the difference with honey later. Stir to combine. Grate the frozen butter into the flour mix. Toss to coat and separate the butter pieces, then freeze the bowl for 10 min to firm up the butter again.

In a separate container, whisk the buttermilk, heavy cream, egg, vanilla and citrus zest. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients, gently stirring to incorporate the flour.

Stop when you have a shaggy, sticky dough, without any large pockets of dry flour left. Add splashes of buttermilk if the dough is too dry, but be careful not to overmix the dough.

Toss your blueberries with a little bit of flour. This will help keep the juices from bursting everywhere.

Transfer handfuls of the dough to a floured counter. As you do that, sprinkle blueberries over the dough and gently push them in. The goal is not work the dough too much or crush the berries, so I found it easier to incorporate the berries this way instead of stirring them into the bowl in the previous step.

Gather the dough together with floured hands and pat it out to 1" thickness. Use a pastry brush to swipe away excess flour.

Use a floured 2" biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits. Press straight down and up, don't twist. It's okay if it cuts through some of the berries. Gather scraps back together and cut out remaining biscuits. I got about eighteen total.

Transfer cut biscuits to a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet. Leave a little bit of space so they won't stick together. (If you'll be baking all of the biscuits at once, leave about an inch between each biscuit. Otherwise it doesn't really matter because you can space them out more after they're frozen.)

Brush the biscuit tops generously with heavy cream. Freeze the whole pan for at least 30 minutes before baking. 

To prep and bake later: Freeze the biscuits until completely solid, which should take a couple hours. Transfer the frozen biscuits to a freezer safe bag for storage; keep frozen until needed. When ready to bake, don't thaw them. Just arranged on a lined baking sheet and proceed with the normal recipe steps.

While the biscuits are in the freezer, preheat your oven to 450° F. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes on the middle rack, until biscuits are golden brown and slightly crusty around the edges. (If your biscuits were completely frozen, they may need an extra minute or two in the oven. You can typically tell if there is any wet looking dough poking out on the tops.) 

Cool biscuits for a minute before drizzling generously with lavender honey. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Final note. One of the questions I get most after people see biscuits studded with fruit is whether I have a scone recipe. Last summer I started playing around with fruit scones, realizing that a proper scone is nothing like the dry hockey pucks I've had at commercial coffee shops. But aside from using cream instead of buttermilk, they were pretty indistinguishable from my blueberry biscuit recipe, which already leaned towards the fluffy, crumbly side versus more rigidly defined flaky layers. My favorite version here also incorporated little chunks of fresh peaches. So while I don't have an "official" scone recipe, you could certainly tweak this recipe and cut them into triangles instead!

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