Tonia’s best cream biscuits

Decadent and quick cream biscuits are often attributed to James Beard, who credited his family’s Chinese cook with the recipe found in his classic baking book, Beard on Bread.

I’m skeptical, however, that the recipe for these working girl (or guy) friendly biscuits originated with Beard’s cook. I’ve found similar recipes in numerous cookbooks, and it seems to me any experienced baker would at some point substitute fat-rich cream for shortening or butter.

Most recipes for these biscuits include sugar. Mine does not. If you want sugar, you can add a couple of teaspoons, but I don’t recommend it. Biscuits are easily turned into dessert. Just slather them with somebody’s homemade apple butter or molasses.

Putting sugar in biscuits limits (as chefs and celebrity cooks say) their “flavor profile,” meaning you might not want to eat sweet biscuits with your fried chicken. Well, I wouldn’t, anyway.

These are super quick, especially if you use self-rising flour. Doing it the old fashioned way — adding baking powder and salt to all-purpose flour — isn’t difficult, either, and has the added benefit of making you feel all virtuous.

With practice, you can make these in 5 or 10 minutes, and they are wonderful as leftovers. They’re even good pulled out of the refrigerator and eaten cold as a snack.

The biggest secret of making good biscuits however, is this: Handle them as little as possible. Don’t even think about kneading the dough because that will excite the protein and form gluten in the flour, making them chewy. Remember: biscuits are pastry, not bread.

2 C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 C. heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees — you want the oven hot to cook the biscuits quickly. Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large glass bowl, mix dry ingredients well with a whisk. Add cream and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a rough dough — it should be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Sprinkle the dough with flour and rub flour onto your hands. DO NOT KNEAD it. Simply pat the dough into a circle that’s about 3/4-inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter, cut into rounds.

I don’t recommend using a glass to cut your biscuits — they mash instead of cut the biscuit and produce a flat pastry instead of the light, airy biscuit. If you don’t want to buy a biscuit cutter, use a sharp knife to cut the dough into scone-like wedges. Gather the scraps, gently pat together and cut remaining dough into more rounds, or wedges. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned on top.

These are wonderful right out of the oven, even if you burn the roof of your mouth. With the amount of cream used in the dough, you don’t need to butter them. They’re good with sweet or savory condiments.

Yield depends on the size of your cutter — about 6 to 10 biscuits.

Don’t concern yourself with their saturated fat content. All that low-fat-is-good-for-you nonsense has been debunked by science. The new wisdom is this: Low fat makes you fat.

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