Coconut Buttermilk Biscuits
The idea is simple. Take Anita’s Yogurt, add water, and you’ve got vegan buttermilk. A flavorful ingredient that opens up new recipe territory. Buttermilk ranch dressing. Buttermilk battered onion rings. Buttermilk chocolate frosting. But the recipe I was most excited about veganizing after stumbling into cultured coconut was buttermilk biscuits.
On my first night on the job as an overnight baker, the shop owner handed over a white binder of recipes, lightly dusted with flour, and instructed me to make one batch of everything. It was a long night of coffee sodas and new wave pumping from the sound system, but I got through the recipes and had all the muffins, scones, pastries, cookies and biscuits laid out on the counter in cloth-lined baskets for early-morning commuters to ogle. It was an incredibly empowering feeling to have created this much beautiful food while the rest of the city slumbered. I thought highly of myself for handling it all alone, and headed home to sleep through the morning–still high on Champlain Valley organic flour and adrenaline.
Later that night, while assembling ingredients for my second shift, I was surprised to see the owner walk into the shop briskly while the baristas were closing up. He marched back to the kitchen, looked at me seriously and said “I need to show you how to make biscuits.”
Watching him make biscuits reminded me of the time my friend Gabe invited me over to make scones. The farther the recipe progressed, the more I thought “She’s crazy. This can’t work. The chunks of butter are too big. The dough isn’t mixed enough.” But they were the best scones I’d ever had. And I was about to have the best biscuit I’d ever had. The shop owner worked quickly but made sure I took note of the following:
- The key is to work the butter in by hand. Each chunk of batter should be smashed flat. This creates flaky layers. But don’t overdo it or the butter will get warm.
- Once the buttermilk is added, fold it into the dough the minimal number of times. The more you work the mixture, the warmer it will get and the more you will develop gluten in the flour. The key to light and fluffy biscuits is to work the dough as little as possible and keep it cold. You don’t want to stir or knead. Work from the bottom of the bowl and literally use your arms to fold the mixture up and over itself.
- Don’t pat the dough out too thin. You want tall biscuits that will stand up to the oven’s heat. (Sometimes they baked up so tall they would topple over! This made me proud.)
- Completely sop the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk. The dough is dry so this top layer of moisture locks in the steam from the melting chunks of butter and makes the inside of the biscuits light, flaky and moist. And buttermilk gives biscuits their color.
- The oven should be blazing hot. You want hot and fast cooking to get that golden finish.
As it turned out–once veganized with my yogurt–coconut buttermilk biscuits were just as flaky, flavorful and delicious as their dairy counterparts.
This is one of my top 5 favorite recipes. Not only because I’ve prepared it hundreds of times, but because the magic of the recipe cannot be captured in a binder. It has to be learned by hand. That experience instantly transports me to the kitchen where my Colombian ‘Grandma Ana’ taught me to cook.
Abuela would bristle any time I asked for quantities. While making arepas: “Squeeze your earlobe. When the dough feels like that, you’ve kneaded enough.” While making rice: “Add water until it is as deep as your first finger crease. The rice will come out perfect.” While preparing her torta de manzana, she’d ask me to pass her “a cup” to measure the flour, and whether it was a four ounce teacup or a six ounce mug, the cake always turned out just right.
As a baker, I’d get annoyed at chefs and foodies who said, “I could never be a baker. Baking is an exact science.” I’d immediately judge them and think, ‘This person is just trying to humor me.’ Or, ‘This person knows nothing about baking.’
Clearly, baking was a feel. At least for my Grandma. So if I could add a #6 to the list above, it would be, above all else, feel your way through this recipe. Your biscuits will come out perfect.
Coconut Buttermilk Biscuits
(makes 20 large biscuits)
8 ½ cups all purpose flour
4 ½ tbp baking powder
5 tsp sugar
5 tsp fine sea salt
9 oz vegetable shortening (such as nutiva), chilled and broken into small chunks. (Alternately, use vegan butter.)
3 cups Anita’s Yogurt
Preheat oven to 475°F. (For convection ovens use 450°F).
To make coconut buttermilk, whisk together 3 cups (16oz) Anita’s Yogurt with 2 ¼ cups cold water. Chill.
In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
Smash the chunks of cold butter into the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the bowl and add 4 cups chilled buttermilk (reserve the extra for glazing). Fold until mixture just holds together, taking care not to overwork the dough. Invert bowl onto floured table.
Working from the center out, pat dough to 2 ½” thick circle, using one hand to keep edges tidy. Cut rounds with a metal ring (to make a DIY biscuit cutter, remove the top and bottom of a metal can). Work from the outside toward the center. Re-roll scraps for a second cutting.
Transfer rounds to lined baking sheets. Glaze the tops of the biscuits generously with buttermilk. Bake in very hot oven 20 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Serve warm with butter, jam and extra yogurt. Or use in our Best Vegan Benedict recipe! Please note: once cooled, biscuits can be stored in an airtight container or bag for up to a week. Longer-term, biscuits can be frozen and reheated.
Stay tuned for our next recipe! The Best Vegan Benedict.