Recently Martha Levie, chief baker at Abigail’s oven explained how she makes and bakes buttery sourdough biscuits in a cast-iron skillet, for a training segment on Sourdough Heaven. This compares well to our recipe for Sourdough Saturday: Thanksgiving Sourdough Biscuits.
Martha says these biscuits are, “Very delicious!” and the reason, of course, is the butter. So though the recipe suggests you can use lard or shortening, for best flavor, use butter.
Martha also changes up the tradition of cutting cold butter into the two-and-a-half cups of all-purpose flour. “I use a half a cup of warm butter so I can just squish it up with my hands, ” she explains, But you can definitely do this recipe with cold butter. Just cut it up into little pieces, especially if you’re doing it in a stand mixer. Just let it mix, until it cuts in beautifully.”
But, she says, “I just like to get my hands in there, squishing the butter up all around, and pretty soon your flour starts to turn yellow. It’s got that buttery color and a few chunks of butter, which I love inside my biscuit. That’s yummy.”
Once the flour takes on a yellow hue and it’s crumbly, it is time “to make our biscuit sponge that is going to sit through the night (or through the day, whichever you like).
First, she says, in another container “take a tablespoon of sugar or honey, and a whole cup of milk (she prefers almond milk, but you could even use water), and a half cup of activated start.”
As she dips her cup into the starter she looks at it affectionately and says, “So then this beautiful start here. Oh, I just am always in awe when I see an activated start, I think is the coolest looking thing. “
“Work this together,” she explains, “with your hands. “You are probably gasping, right?
“What recipe doesn’t Martha use her hands to mix it? You can just use a fork, right” she smiles while stirring the starter into the sweetened milk with one hand in a claw-like fashion.
Then she combines this liquid with the flour. “So what you want to do is mix the milk and the start together first. Then work that into the flour. Once that’s worked in, to scrape around sides and mix it just enough that you don’t have big clumps of flour. It doesn’t have to be perfectly done. You just want all the flour to be wet as it sits for the fermentation part.
“Okay are going to cover this and let it sit overnight, (or for at least eight hours, we could go 10, but you don’t want to go any fewer than eight), just to make sure that it gets fermented properly.”
In the morning or after “it has been raising for eight hours. It pretty much doubles in size. And so now we need to add our baking soda, salt, and baking powder. But first mix this in a little cup,” before adding it to the sponge.
She uses half a teaspoon of baking soda, “three-quarters of a teaspoon of our quality salt, and then a teaspoon and a half of baking powder. When you use baking powder, I always like to use one that is aluminum-free. The Rumford brand is aluminum-free and is really good brand.
“So we’re literally just sprinkling this powder mixture over the top, and then we’re going to need it in with our hands and it’s going to deflate because of the ferment, but don’t worry. You’ll see it get a little bubbly on the surface as you’re mixing it in. From the reaction of the acid during fermentation and the alkaline from the baking soda.
Sourdough Skillet Biscuits
Long Ferment (Biscuit Sponge)
Biscuit Dough (next day or after 8-10 hours of fermentation)
Mix it just enough to “make sure that you can’t see any of the powders. Maybe squish it with your fingers, turn it around and squish your fingers again, just to make sure it mixed in.”
At this point, the oven should be preheating to 450°F (232°C) with a cast-iron skillet inside heating up too.
“Now we are ready to roll out these biscuits, but technically I don’t really roll them out. I’m going to use oil instead of flour, on my counter because I don’t want any unprocessed flour on my biscuits. So I’m just going to spread some olive oil around on it.” Then she pats the dough into a square.
This recipe makes about 12 small biscuits and nine large ones, but she likes larger “ones because I like that to be able to make a sandwich with it. But so you, you know, you can do whatever you would like.”
She cautions that these sourdough biscuits are not as flaky as normal biscuits and the dough “is more stretchy than your typical a biscuit. “It’s going to be clumpy and if you pulled it apart, it would just tear like a pie crust. But because of the sourdough in here, it’s going to be a little less flaky, than a typical biscuit recipe.”
With oil on the counter and oil on her bench knife, not a biscuit cutter, she cuts them in squares, “so they don’t stick to each other. “
Meanwhile, she removes the hot skillet from the oven and adds “about three tablespoons of butter. I know that seems like a lot, but it’s just really yummy. [Butter] not only makes it so they don’t stick, but yeah there is that nice buttery flavor.” But she warns “you’ve got to be quick because this is hot.” She quickly dips each biscuit, front and back, in the hot butter, leaving them in the pan as she goes.
“Now, if you don’t like your biscuits touching, then you’ll want to use a bigger skillet. Or, if you want them to be really tall, you can just squish them in and then they’ll raise up. But some people, and sometimes I, just want crispness all the way around. So a bigger pan makes it so that they’re not stuck together,” and that way each side, all the way around gets crispy.
Return the skillet to the hot oven and bake them for 16 to 19 minutes “depending on your oven hot your it gets. So you probably want to check them at about 16 minutes to see if they are browned.” The reason she uses cast iron versus a baking sheet is, that “usually by the time I leave it in long enough to brown the tops, the bottom is burned. But I don’t find that happening when baking them in cast iron skillet, it just gets an all-around crispness.”
“Also, she points out, “it’s really fun to get used to cooking in skillets for when you go camping. You can bring your dough, make it beforehand. And because it has to sit and ferment, you’re not doing all of this extra work necessarily at the campsite. Then when you’re ready mix it up really quick and sticking it over your camp stove or putting it in a Dutch oven and bake in the coals. Then you’ve got beautiful biscuits for everyone to eat.” And for an excellent twist at camp, try our Pull-Apart Bacon Sourdough Biscuits.
Pulling hers from the oven, she concludes: “Here we are. Our skillet biscuits. Don’t they look amazing? So enjoy.”
Tell us about your favorite sourdough biscuits in the comment section below.