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Biscuits are the quintessential Southern breakfast and they couldn't be easier to make—smash some butter and flour together, stir in some buttermilk, pat, fold, cut, and bake. The only thing easier would be if the dough made itself and climbed into the oven just before your alarm goes off in the morning, filling your kitchen with the buttery aroma of freshly baked biscuits without any of the mess.
If that sounds like a good idea, then you're going to love angel biscuits—a yeast-raised dough with a slow, overnight rise in the fridge. The dough itself is made much like any other biscuit (more on that in a bit), but after arranging the biscuits in a cast iron skillet, it goes in the fridge, not the oven. While you sleep, the yeast works its magic, giving the biscuits a complex flavor along the lines of a Parker House roll, with a light but sturdy crumb. They're perfect with nothing more than butter and a spoonful of honey, but resilient enough to split and sandwich with eggs or country ham.
As with any biscuit, angel biscuits don't do well with 100% hard red wheat flour, a high-protein option better suited to chewy breads and crispy crackers. On the flip side, 100% soft white wheat is a little too soft and starchy, making biscuits cakier than ideal. Here, as with most of my recipes, I recommend using a blended all-purpose flour such as Gold Medal. By combining both types of wheat, it splits the difference between the two, providing a perfect balance of protein and starch. In turn, that makes biscuits delicate and light but sturdy, so they don't crumble apart when you split them in two.
The flour is combined with plain instant yeast (not rapid rise), salt, and a bit of baking soda to help the dough brown. Like other biscuits, cubes of cold, unsalted butter are roughly incorporated into the dry mix; I like doing this by hand, but a few pulses on a food processor should do the trick. Rather than buttermilk or yogurt, these biscuits are hydrated with plain milk. This puts the focus on their rich, yeasty flavor.
The milk's only role is to furnish water and lactose to the dough, so it doesn't matter whether you grab whole milk or skim; the difference is only a few grams of fat, which is nothing in comparison to what the biscuits derive from butter. So feel free to use whatever type of milk you have on hand, it won't make any difference in the final product.
From here, the dough takes its first deviation from a "standard" biscuit. Instead of rolling and cutting the dough after mixing, it's covered to proof until roughly doubled, about 2 hours at cool room temperature (around 70°F).
The puffy dough is turned out on a lightly floured surface, and then patted out and folded as per my method for homemade biscuits. For biscuit newbies, patting by hand is a gentler treatment, and reduces the risk of crushing the air cells in the dough, keeping the biscuits fluffy and light.
If using a pin, be gentle and take care not to compress the dough or roll it too thin. The idea is to build a few rough layers into the dough, so use a light hand.
After a total of three folds, the dough is rolled until just 3/4 inch thick, then cut into rounds. My go-to cutter is 1 3/4 inches across, but feel free to use whatever size you like—just bear in mind that even with a small change in size, the yield may vary more than you might expect.
Now the fun part: Cover the biscuits with foil (plastic wrap tends to slip loose), and refrigerate the cut-outs overnight, somewhere between eight and twelve hours. There's just not any point in a shorter rise with this dough; if you're in a hurry, it's better to make regular biscuits. Going longer than 12 hours is problematic as well, as the biscuits may begin to overproof. Otherwise, proofing can take place within a reasonably flexible window, so go ahead—sleep in!
In the morning the biscuits will be swollen, chubby, and ready to rock 'n roll.
Brush with melted butter and bake at 400°F until puffed, firm to the touch, and golden brown, about 25 minutes.
As with any type of bread, biscuits need a minute to set up when they come out of the oven, or else their crumb will seem gummy and wet. Don't worry, the cast iron skillet will keep them warm in the meantime. Whether destined for breakfast sandwiches, or a quick bite with butter and jam, angel biscuits are the perfect make-ahead addition to a leisurely breakfast or brunch.
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