Coriander-Scented Buttermilk Biscuits
I call these coriander-scented biscuits because they are so gorgeously fragrant when they come out of the oven, but don’t worry — you will taste that lovely citrusy-spice flavor, too. The essential oil that gives coriander seeds their unique flavor is so delicate that it is completely worth the extra effort to buy whole seeds and grind them yourself right before using them (in a mortar & pestle, coffee or spice grinder, or rolled in a clean kitchen towel and rolled with a rolling pin). It’s also far more economical — be still, my frugal, Yankee heart — to buy a big bag of whole coriander seeds from your local ethnic market than it is to buy the overpriced, often-stale little jars of pre-ground spices in the grocery store baking aisle. Here in Ames, IA, I buy my bulk spices at Pammel Grocery. I dare you to try to leave the store without buying a bite-sized morsel from their vast selection of freshly baked baklava & other sweets (temptingly housed in a glass case near the checkout). On second thought, why bother trying? Mmm.
For biscuits that turn out consistently light, flaky, and tender, follow these simple tips: (1) start with very cold shortening, butter, and buttermilk. You don’t want the fat to melt into the flour and turn into paste as you work it; you want tiny little chunks of shortening and butter to be distributed throughout the dough. When the dough hits the hot oven, these little chunks of fat will essentially fry up the flour surrounding them, creating light, flaky layers. (2) Make sure the oven is fully heated before starting to make the biscuit dough. The rise in these biscuits comes from the reaction of the baking soda and buttermilk, and it happens quickly, so don’t let the dough sit around — get it into the hot oven as soon as possible. (3) Don’t overwork the dough. Handling the dough too much will produce gluten, which is great for yeast breads, but will make your biscuits flat and tough.
My favorite tool for the important task of cutting-in the shortening/butter is an old-fashioned pastry cutter. My mom had a pastry cutter when I was a kid, and I remember watching her make pie crust with it; I came to think of this strange-looking gadget as mom’s “pie-making tool.” I spent years looking for one just like hers, with bands of metal, like dull knives, rather than wire as the cutting edge. I finally found one a few years ago, and it has been my go-to hand tool for scones, biscuits, and pie crust ever since. There’s nothing wrong with using a food processor (if you don’t mind cleaning it afterwards). If your kitchen is humbly equipped, then two butter knives will take a little longer to get the task done, but they will do.
These biscuits are a treat all on their own with a bit of jam or honey and a pot of freshly brewed tea, and they are also a nice way to dress up a simple dinner. The Scholarly Gentleman and I enjoyed them with chicken tikka masala and steamed green beans after a long afternoon of researching and studying, but I often bake them as an accompaniment to soup, too.
Coriander-Scented Buttermilk Biscuits
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp ground coriander seeds
3 Tbsp vegetable shortening, cold
2 Tbsp butter, cold
3/4 cup buttermilk, cold
Preheat oven to 450 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until well blended. Using a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or a food processor, cut the shortening and butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the cold buttermilk all at once. Using a fork, quickly mix the buttermilk into the flour mixture until just combined. The dough will not be smooth and uniform like bread dough, and that is o.k.; resist the urge to knead it more than once or twice. Tip the dough out onto a floured board, and pat it out to about 1/2″ thick.
Sometimes I pat the dough into a big square, and then cut it into about 9 large, square biscuits; other times, I will pat it into a circle and use a biscuit cutter to cut about ten 3″ round biscuits. Transfer the cut biscuits to the lined baking sheet, and bake for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant.