Why It Works
- Instant dry yeast replaces baking powder to leaven these biscuits, giving them a flavor much like classic dinner rolls.
- A long, slow rise helps these biscuits develop flavor and structure.
- A touch of baking soda improves browning and flavor.
- An overnight rise means the biscuits can be baked first thing in the morning, putting breakfast on the table without any fuss.
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/21°C). The puffy dough is turned out on a lightly floured surface, and then patted out and folded as per my method for light and fluffy 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 (200°C) 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.
12 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal (about 2 2/3 cups, spooned; 340g)
1 ounce sugar (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
1/4 ounce (about 2 teaspoons; 7g) instant dry yeast, such as SAF; not RapidRise or active dry (see notes and also more info here)
2 teaspoons (8g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight as kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 1/4 ounces cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 10 1/2 tablespoons; 145g)
9 ounces milk, any percentage will do (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 255g)
Sift flour into a medium bowl, then add sugar, instant dry yeast, salt, and baking soda; whisk until well combined (this may take up to 1 minute). Add butter, toss to break up the pieces, and, using your hands, smash each cube flat. Continue smashing and rubbing until the butter has mostly disappeared into a floury mix, although a few larger, Cheerio-sized pieces may remain. This can also be done with 4 or 5 pulses in a food processor, just take care not to overdo it. The prepared mix can be refrigerated up to 3 weeks in an airtight container, then used as directed below.
Add milk, and stir with a flexible spatula until the flour has been fully absorbed. When the dough forms a rough ball, cover with plastic and set aside at cool room temperature until roughly doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. At temperatures significantly above or below 70°F (21°C), this process will proceed at a different rate, so use visual cues rather than a specific timetable.
After proofing, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. With lightly floured bare hands, gently pat the dough into a squarish shape about 1/2 inch thick, then fold in half; repeat twice more for a total of 3 folds, using only enough flour to keep your hands from sticking. Finish by patting the dough to a thickness of 3/4 inch. If needed, dust away any excess flour, then cut into 1 3/4-inch rounds and arrange in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Gather scraps into a ball, pat and fold a single time, then cut as many more biscuits as you can. The final round of scraps can be gathered and shaped into a single biscuit by hand. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight, between 8 and 12 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (200°C). Brush the cold dough with melted butter, and bake until the biscuits are well-risen and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let the biscuits cool about 5 minutes to help set their crumb, then serve as desired, whether alongside soups and stews or split for shortcake or breakfast sandwiches. Leftovers can be stored up to a week in an airtight container. To serve, split the stale biscuits in half, brush with melted butter, arrange on a baking sheet, and broil until golden brown, then serve with jam.
This recipe works best with instant dry yeast such as SAF, which does not require hydration or proofing before use. Rapid rise or quick rise styles cannot be used as a replacement, as they are not designed to function in long-term/cold-rise recipes. Plain, active dry or bread machine yeast can be used instead, though the recipe will need to be modified in order to hydrate the yeast. In this event simply follow the package directions, using a portion of milk from the recipe rather than water to hydrate the yeast.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 9g||12%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||28%|
|Total Carbohydrate 22g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|