This is the season of expressing gratitude, so let me start by wishing you and your loved ones a happy, healthy holiday season. This is also the season of enjoying gravy and biscuits. You probably made some this past week on Thanksgiving. Biscuit and Gravy (usually meat) is a traditional breakfast in many parts of the United States. However, biscuits show up on my table usually around this part of the year; specifically, on Thanksgiving day. I usually wear the sous chef hat and my husband whips up a grand celebratory traditional dinner (with Tofu Turkey). Until this year either my husband made the biscuits or were outsourced to the frozen section of the supermarket. This year, I happened to do the frozen biscuit shopping; yes, this was my first time. As with other new grocery products, I started with reading the nutrition label of frozen biscuits. Guess what? The ingredient list included “hydrogenated oil” in addition to a few chemicals I vaguely recognized. That was enough to propel me toward making my very first batch of vegan biscuits at home.
Growing up in India, I don’t recall ever eating biscuits as they are known in the U.S. and Canada.–a flaky quick bread with fat (usually butter and/or margarine), soda, baking powder, and (often) buttermilk. I started with vegetarian version of the recipe–as the rest of my family (not vegan) asked for “BUTTERMILK BISCUITS.” Since I had never made biscuits before, I started reading recipes by the pros–Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay. I also parsed a couple of recipes from the New York Times. Here is what I learned: fat is an essential part of the recipe. In southern-style biscuits, margarine/shortening (partially-hydrogenated fat) is used to give biscuits that flaky, melt-in-the mouth texture.
You must be wondering why I am harping so much on hydrogenated oil. Well, partially hydrogenated oil, often an essential ingredient in shortening/margarine, contains the worst kind of fat for our heart: TRANS-FAT. The American Heart Association (AHA) discourages the use of trans-fats as it is linked with the increased risks of heart disease, strokes, and diabetes (more on this later).
It took me 30 minutes to whip up these delicious biscuits. A small time investment, therefore, can prevent getting unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients– in this instance, partially hydrogenated fat and other chemicals–into our diets. This is particularly important if (frozen) biscuits show up on your table frequently. Let’s get started:
So after understanding the basic structure of the recipe, I started with buttermilk biscuits. I adapted some ingredients from the list of the pros and improvised some ingredients and measurements myself. These buttermilk biscuits came out soft and flaky and were enthusiastically approved by the chief-tasters at TLC–my kids.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp seasalt (or any other)
- 4 tbsp butter (chilled)
- 1 cup buttermilk (low-fat, chilled)
- 1 tsp thyme* (dried, optional)
- Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Add baking powder, baking soda, salt, and dried thyme (if using) to all-purpose flour and stir with a whisk to mix well. Chill the butter in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. Take it out just before adding to the flour mixture. Cut the butter into small cubes.
- In a big bowl, add flour mixture and cubed butter. Start meshing butter with both hands into the flour. Within five minutes, the butter will get mixed with the flour, leaving a mixture with semi-wet sand consistency.
- Make a well in the flour-butter mixture and pour the chilled buttermilk. Work the liquid into the flour till it come together. Make a big ball and roll the dough. Cut into biscuit-size circle with a biscuit cutter or a small-rimmed cup. Rework the remaining dough till you have twelve biscuits.
- Set all the biscuits close together on an aluminum cookie tray. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.
- Once done, take them out on a cooking rack and (preferably) serve hot with gravy, chutney, or jam. Enjoy!
After making the vegetarian version, inventing the vegan interpretation was easy. The vegan version is made with part whole flour, which gives these biscuits adequate amount of fiber. These biscuits are not as soft or flaky as the buttermilk version, but still taste delicious, especially right out of the oven. I enjoyed these with cranberry chutney (recipe coming soon). Here is how to make it:
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or sub with regular whole wheat flour)
- 1 cup white spelt flour (or sub with all-purpose flour)
- 1/4 cup white spelt flour (for dusting)
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp sea salt (or any other)
- 1 cup light coconut milk (chilled)
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tbsp coconut oil (chilled)
- 1 tsp thyme (dried, or sub with tsp fresh thyme)
- Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Mix chilled coconut milk with white vinegar and let it rest in the refrigerator. In a medium bowl, mix pastry flour, spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and dried thyme. Stir 5-10 times with a whisk.
- Chill coconut oil in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes prior to making the bread. Cut the oil in pea-size bits and work into the flour. Start mixing with both hands until the coconut oil is completely absorbed in the flour, leaving a semi wet sand-like mixture. Make a well in the center, and pour coconut milk and vinegar mixture in the flour. Mix with hands till the flour comes together (don't over mix). The dough will be a little wet at this point.
- On a floured surface, gently press and fold the dough over with hands till it is workable into a ball. Press the ball lightly either with hands or a rolling pin into a 3/4" round . Cut out biscuits (~2 inch round) with a biscuit cutter or with the rim of a small cup or bowl. Scoop up the trimmings and form another ball. Repeat the process till all the dough is used.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-18 minutes. Once baked, set on a cooling rack for 30 minutes or serve warm with your favorite topping. Mine are mushroom gravy, jam, and almond butter. Enjoy.