Why It Works
- Butter will make the biscuits richer, but less fluffy; use or omit as you prefer.
- Finely grated cheddar keeps these biscuits light, and boosts the recipe's yield.
- Baking powder won't neutralize the buttermilk's acidity, leaving its tangy flavor intact.
- Buttermilk makes a thicker dough than milk, so you can use more, keeping the biscuits fluffy and moist.
Maybe it's just all my memories of dining out as a kid, but nothing goes with a big bowl of chowder quite like a fluffy cheddar biscuit. To my mind, they shouldn't be as buttery as a classic biscuit: a little less rich so they don't compete with the creamy broth, and a bit breadier so they don't crumble apart after dunking. They should also be garlicky and generously spiced, easy to throw together with just a moment's notice, and they shouldn't have any special ingredients that might be cause for delay.
Making the Drop Biscuit Mix
My go-to drop biscuit mix couldn't be simpler: all-purpose flour, fresh parsley or chives, a dash of powdered onion, garlic, paprika, and cayenne—plus salt and a pinch of sugar to round out those savory notes. It's just about a perfect blend as far as I'm concerned, but the flavor and intensity of those spices will vary by freshness and brand (not to mention personal taste), so consider the proportions a starting point and feel free to tweak them as you see fit.
Less subjective is my choice to leaven the biscuits with baking powder instead of baking soda—an alkaline ingredient that would neutralize the tangy flavor of buttermilk. With baking soda, buttermilk biscuits take on a deeply savory, almost pretzel-like note and dark color similar to Irish soda bread. Plenty of classic buttermilk biscuits call for soda, and there's nothing wrong with that, but by switching to baking powder the overall flavor of the biscuits remains bright and tangy, which serves as a better backdrop for the intensely garlicky mix of herbs and spices, and the richness of the cheese.
After tossing the cheddar with the dry ingredients, you can bag up the "mix" and refrigerate it until the date stamped on the package of cheese. It's a great way to knock out the most tedious portion of the recipe (measuring out all the herbs and spices, then shredding the cheese). Having it handy makes it convenient to whip up a batch of biscuits even for a weeknight dinner, or for those nights when you'd like to get some fresh bread on the table—especially in winter months, when you can't go a week without whipping up some sort of hearty chili or stew.
Assembling the Dough
Whether you save the biscuit mix for later or want to make them right away, finishing up is easy. Just fold in some buttermilk to form a soft dough. Thanks to the high volume of finely shredded cheese, the dough won't be as wet as traditional drop biscuits, but will still be soft enough to drop from a spoon. Besides, rolling would only compress the light dough.
As with my homemade Cheez-Its, these biscuits depend on grating the cheese with a Microplane or parmesan grater, rather than a box grater or the grating attachment of a food processor.
Finely grating the cheese increases its surface area to such an extent that the cheddar behaves more like a dry ingredient, offsetting the liquid content of the buttermilk and contributing to the physical volume of the biscuits. Shredding the cheese any other way will decrease the yield of the recipe and result in biscuits that are dense and wet, which will lead to the dough spreading too much in the oven.
Not only does finely shredded cheese improve the texture of the biscuits, it also intensifies the color and flavor of the dough so it's golden with cheddar in every bite. The perfectly homogeneous distribution of cheese lets the bottoms of each biscuit brown until golden and crisp, like the lacy cheese bits that cook up around the edges of a grilled cheese sandwich.
So instead of a plain biscuit studded with the occasional ribbon of cheese, you've got a mouthful of cheese in every bite—which is exactly what I want when it comes to a light and fluffy cheddar biscuit. Chowder or not.
How to Make Garlic Cheddar Drop Biscuits
9 ounces bleached all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon; 255g)
1 ounce unsalted butter (2 tablespoons; 30g) (optional)
1/4 ounce fresh parsley or chives, finely chopped (2 tablespoons; 7 g)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 ounces sharp cheddar, finely grated (3 3/4 cups; 170g) (see notes)
9 ounces cultured low-fat buttermilk (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 255g)
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (200°C). Sift flour into a large bowl. If using butter, dice into 1/4-inch pieces, then toss with flour and rub with your fingertips until no visible bits remain. Whisk in parsley or chives, baking powder, sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne. Add the finely grated cheddar, and toss until well combined. Pour in buttermilk, and stir with a flexible spatula to form a soft dough.
With a pair of spoons, drop the dough into 10 large portions on a parchment-lined half sheet pan (it's fine to eyeball their size; no need to weigh). Bake until golden brown all over, about 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes and serve—the flavor of the biscuits will intensify as they cool. In an airtight container, leftovers will keep up to 24 hours at room temperature; warm in a hot oven to serve.
Half sheet pan, parchment paper, Parmesan grater or microplane (see notes)
The consistency of these biscuits, and even their yield, depends on using a fine, Microplane or Parmesan-style grater for the cheese. I love Microplane's fine grater because it's extra wide, and makes quick work of the cheese.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 6g||8%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||17%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||7%|
|*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.|