The Perfect Loaf is a column from software engineer turned bread expert (and Food52’s Resident Bread Baker) Maurizio Leo. Maurizio is here to show us all things naturally leavened, enriched, yeast-risen, you name it — basically, any excuse for slathering on a lot of butter. Today, he’s discussing how to turn sourdough discard into tender drop biscuits.
* * *
Mixing flour, butter, and a leavener is the starting point for many great baked goods, savory or sweet. Flour provides the structure, and butter gives savoriness (and, of course, that sought-after flaky texture), while the leavener acts to lighten everything up. Adding buttermilk and some ripe sourdough starter brings a touch more tang and tenderness to the equation, giving my sourdough drop biscuits a little something extra.
I like the idea of having a go-to dough that has more than one use in the kitchen, one that can be adapted to suit varying moods, flavors, and palates. It’s a bonus that the sourdough starter called for lends not only a touch of flavor, but also tenderness — not to mention that it’s a great way to use up any excess sourdough discard from your regular feedings.
This sourdough starter discard is the portion of your starter that’s removed during each feeding and replaced with fresh flour and water. The discard is essentially fermented flour and water, and as we know, fermentation brings with it a wide range of unexpected and bright flavors through the acids, alcohols, and other compounds created. Lengthy sourdough fermentation also helps break down the gluten in flour, meaning the discard can improve the texture of any baked good—and especially these drop biscuits. Plus, it’s a great way to put something you’d normally compost to better use!
While drop biscuits are delicious warm from the oven, the base can also be used in more ways than just simply buttered (although who could tire of that classic?). Let’s take a look.
With Butter and Preserves
The natural first stop in using these biscuits — besides just eating them plain, of course — is to cut them in half and slather them with butter and whatever preserves you have kicking around in the fridge. For me, the primo choice is raspberry preserves — the tart flavor pairs so well with the rich biscuit dough. If jam isn’t your thing, no worries; no one has ever complained about a humble buttered biscuit.
Drop Biscuit Cobbler
The dough for my sourdough drop biscuits can be thought of almost as a pie crust, but instead of using it as a bottom and top crust for a pie, make things even easier on yourself by using it in a rustic cobbler.
Pick a juicy and seasonal cobbler filling (my current favorites are blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and nectarines),and combine the mixture in a 10-inch round cast-iron pan or any baking dish about this size. Then mix together one batch of sourdough drop biscuit dough, gather it up into a rough mound, and roll out with a rolling pin to about ½ inch thick. Cut the dough into circles using a biscuit cutter or glass and place the pieces on top of your filling like a jigsaw puzzle, with some pieces overlapping. If you have any extra dough, you can bake the circles on a baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes alongside the cobbler until golden — they’re a tasty snack!
Savory Drop Biscuits
During the summer, it seems I’m always eagerly waiting for two things in the garden: fresh tomatoes and hot peppers. Hot peppers grow exceedingly well in the dry Southwest, where I’m based, and since I plant serrano and jalapeño, I’m always just moments away from fresh salsa or baked goods with a spicy slant. I love working jalapeño and grated cheddar cheese into a large loaf of sourdough bread, but a new contender for my attention is a batch of jalapeño-cheddar sourdough drop biscuits. The jalapeño provides a welcome spicy kick, while the cheddar cheese melts as the biscuits are baking, bringing with it luxurious savoriness. In the end, you’re greeted with a warm, cheesy, and spicy biscuit that’s heavenly on its own or to accompany that backyard barbecue.
I like to use 125 to 150 grams grated sharp cheddar cheese and a medium jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped, about 1½ tablespoons (but both can be increased or decreased to your preference). Mix both additions into the dough after you cut the butter into the flour.
Another natural outlet for any biscuit dough is to use it for shortcake — particularly, the classic strawberry shortcake. For this preparation, I like to gather together the biscuit dough after it’s just mixed, then roll it out similar to how I roll it out for cobbler. You can leave the dough a bit thicker, about ¾ inch, to give each shortcake a little more heft and chew. Once the dough is rolled out, cut an even number of circles from it, with the intention of using two pieces for each serving: one biscuit on the bottom and one in the middle among the chopped and macerated strawberries. Top the whole stack off with freshly whipped cream, take a bite, and declare strawberries fresh from the garden (or farmers market) a worthwhile investment.
Now that we’ve ticked the dessert boxes and a savory mix-in, let’s talk about sandwiches. When halved along the equator, a drop biscuit can hold any number of ingredients, from slices of crispy bacon and tender prosciutto to roasted zucchini and fresh, juicy tomato. If you’re accustomed to having a biscuit with butter and jam alongside your eggs for breakfast, relocate and spice up those eggs. Make a drop biscuit breakfast sandwich with eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, and a dash of hot sauce — the flaky biscuit makes for one heck of a bun substitute. And who could refuse a drop biscuit sandwich with ham, cheddar, and fig jam — I know I wouldn’t.
With so many uses for sourdough drop biscuits, it’s no wonder I’ve had them on the weekend menu for the past month. As each item from the garden comes into season, a dough like this can be adapted to carry, top, and hold all the, ahem, fruits of our labor. Happy baking!