Swimming in Butter: A New Biscuit Enters Our Breakfast Rotation
Butter Swim Biscuits, What's on the Breakfast Menu, and Other Tales from the Morning
Issue #50 is about breakfast…well, biscuits, in particular. And not the hard, crunchy things we call cookies and the British insist on calling “biscuits.” (What do they know? Still, I watch the Great British Bake Off obsessively.) I have one request of you, dear reader. If you happen to make and post one of my recipes—these biscuits should be high on your to-do list—or even just something inspired by one of them, or you find yourself in a restaurant or shop I recommend, I’d so appreciate it if you’d tag me @kitchensense so I can congratulate and cheer you on. Happy cooking and eating. —Mitchell
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that breakfast really is one of the most important meals of my day. Nate and I almost always sit down together for a serious, if quick, breakfast, weekdays and weekends, alike. (Milo, who prefers to sleep later than we can on most weekdays, sprawls out under the table, unimpressed.) Our breakfasting started back in pre-pandemic times, pre-Milo times, when we were both busy with evening meetings, classes, meals, and other engagements. We wanted to have at least one opportunity each day to sit face to face. Now it’s a ritual. We start our day together, listening to NPR, checking in about our schedules, and caffeinating and fortifying ourselves for what lies ahead. Even if we have to get going super early, we try to manage a sit-down meal. Coffee is key.
Nate doesn’t mind eating the same thing day after day. But I need more variation, both on my palate and in the kitchen. He can never think of what he wants me to make when I ask, in part because he can’t fathom what all the options are and he thinks that if he commits to something he will have missed something better he didn’t know about. I was so tired of asking what he wanted and then hearing, “What are the options?” in response, that I actually made up a breakfast menu with all the options for our Quaker Ridge Diner. (Quaker Ridge is the name of the building in which we live.)
This menu took a long time to produce, not because of the design, but because every time I printed it I thought of something I had forgotten to include. Even now, I look at it and think of things I left off that have been in our breakfast rotation often, such as the iced chai lattes I used to make for Nate with a chai mix from Houston’s Pondicheri restaurant and the instant Bek-Kopi (white coffee) from Kopitiam here in New York. Also the southern skillet cornbread I sometimes whip up (less sweet, and less rich than the corn muffins that made it onto the menu). And the strata I keep meaning to make with cubes of bread I have in the freezer.
You will note there is an entire biscuit section on this menu. Even before I met Nate, the southern-born and -raised man who would become my husband, I had a thing for biscuits. In my cooking and in my cookbooks you’ll see buttermilk biscuits, drop biscuits, laminated biscuits, and angel biscuits, the last given extra lift and flavor from the addition of yeast.
But a few weeks ago, while I was procrasti-scrolling on Instagram, I saw a Reel posted by @browniemischief for a kind of biscuit I’d never heard of before: “Butter Swim Biscuits.” The name itself is obviously attention grabbing. Who doesn’t want to imagine a biscuit swimming in butter? And the recipe seemed too easy to be good. I made them for Nate the next morning, and he loved them. We both did: He because they were fluffy and buttery, with that distinct baking powder taste, saltiness, and slight greasiness that was reminiscent of biscuits served in lunch cafeterias in the American south, and I because they were so easy. I’ve made them several times since.
Here’s the thing about these biscuits. Unlike most others, the batter doesn’t actually have any butter or shortening in it. You don’t have to do any of that “cutting of fat into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs,” which is a challenging command for most people. You don’t have to roll or shape anything, either, which means you don’ have to worry much about overworking the dough, as you only have to mix it until it comes together before you spread it in the pan of melted butter. I cannot tell you why this works as well as it does. But if Nate’s biscuit-trained palate is any indication, these will become part of your breakfast rotation in no time, too.
I can take no credit for this recipe. I don’t know who Brownie Mischief is. All it says in her profile and on her blog is that her name is Mari, that she has a background in fashion, and that she likes to bake. But I have learned a few things from making them a few times. First, you can use unbleached, all-purpose flour, but also bleached all-purpose or even (low-gluten) cake flour, which is more the norm in the south (think White Lily). You can also use high-extraction flour (a European style of bread flour with some of the bran left in), or a combination of white, whole wheat, spelt and/or rye flours. I haven’t tried them with any gluten-free flours yet, but I bet they will work fine. (If you try that, let me know how it goes.)
Also, like all biscuits, these are best made with buttermilk, and if you can find a full-fat one (I love Ronnybrook’s), even better. But if all you have is plain, vanilla or maple yogurt, that’s good, too. I thin it down with regular milk or even plant-based milk in a 1 to 1 ratio, depending on how thick the yogurt is. You want the result to be pourable, but not thin.
I’ve halved the recipe and baked the biscuits in a 6-inch square pan so it fits in my toaster oven, making it even easier and quicker. (Since the two of us seem to consume a whole batch, it also halves the calories.) You can stir in a pint of fresh blueberries or raspberries to make a sort of biscuit-muffin hybrid. These really are versatile. And easy.
Also, perhaps because the butter seeps from the outside in, these biscuits keep pretty well for a few days in the pan, covered with foil, or in an airtight bag or other container, unlike most biscuits, which leave much to be desired shortly after they’ve cooled.
RECIPE: Easy Butter Swim Biscuits
Makes 9 to 16 biscuits, depending on how large you cut ‘em
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups flour, all-purpose, cake, whole grain, or a combination (see comments above)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk, or 2 cups plain, vanilla or maple yogurt thinned with any kind of milk to make it pourable (omit the sugar if the yogurt is sweetened)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. While it’s preheating, put the butter into an 8-inch square pan and set it in the oven to melt. Keep an eye on it. It will likely melt long before the oven is ready, after about 10 or 15 minutes. Remove the pan when there is still a little pat of butter unmelted. It will continue to melt while the butter cools and you prepare the batter.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour(s), baking powder, sugar, and salt, and whisk to blend well. When the butter has cooled and the oven is preheated, pour the buttermilk or substitute into this mixture. Switch to a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and stir to combine. You shouldn’t see any dry bits of flour, but don’t beat until smooth. A little lumpiness is okay. Scrape the batter into the pan with the melted butter. Using an offset spatula, spread the batter to the edges of the pan and even out the surface as best you can. (Butter will likely pool on top. No worries.)
With a small knife, make cuts through the buttery batter, dividing the biscuits evenly into 9 (3 x 3), 12 (3 x 4) or 16 (4 x4) squares or rectangles, as you wish. This will be a bit of a challenge, but don’t worry. Your cuts are as much to allow the butter to flow through the biscuits as to divide them up later. You can cut them again once they are baked.
Set in the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until they have risen and browned. Pay attention to the bottom, which you can see through the crevices along the sides of the pan. Depending on how your oven heats, the bottom can brown more quickly than the top. If you find this to be the case, next time set the pan on a baking sheet to insulate the bottom. Dark brown is fine. You just don’t want them to burn. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes or so before slicing again to serve. Mmmmmm.
New “What’s Burning” Episode
We’ve released a new episode of my podcast, What’s Burning, for which I interview chefs and other food experts from around the world about how we might reimagine culinary education for the next generation. Given the challenges we face as a society in which food has a role to play—from climate change to racial justice to food security—not to mention the vast and diverse buffet that is our global food system, it seems like a good time to talk about evolving the curriculum of culinary schools.
This week I speak with Joshna Maharaj, a chef, culinary instructor and author who hasn’t worked in restaurants, but instead is trying to change institutional food service, particularly hospital food service, from the inside out from her base in Toronto, Canada. This is a fascinating conversation about what it’s like to be the only person in a large organization who cares about making change, and how because of the sheer scale of institutional foodservice, even the smallest change can have a large impact. Joshna is full of creative ideas, entertaining stories, and wisdom from years of experience. You won’t want to miss this. What’s Burning is produced by the Jewish National Fund USA and the Galilee Culinary Institute’s Rosenfeld School of Culinary Arts.