Sunday, November 21, 2010

Vanilla Biscuits with Cranberry Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream


For a long time, the only cranberry sauce I knew looked like this. And as long as that was my reference point, I resisted it. Hard. I was never really a fan of cranberry juice either, save for when I found out it promoted good, ahem, health, at which point I desperately tried to persuade my taste buds otherwise (to no avail). In any event, it took a long time for cranberries to worm their way into my heart, but they did. And I'm pretty sure they're here to stay.

So when the rows and rows of very shiny cranberries showed up in my grocery store, I knew they needed a vehicle into my stomach, stat. A leisurely perusal through Martha Stewart's Cooking School unearthed the most perfect companion: vanilla biscuits. I've got to hand it to her, Martha has nailed the vanilla biscuit. When these little cylinders of joy come out of the oven, the smell of vanilla and buttery sweetness are like a silent dinner bell (just watch . . . people will show up in the kitchen). 

I prepared the biscuits and cranberry sauce as a dessert, with whipped cream. But if you really want to step up your Thanksgiving game, serve these biscuits and cranberry sauce with your turkey and stuffing. Your guests, with tears in their eyes, will say "Bless you, [your name here]. This is what Thanksgiving has been missing all my life." Verbatim. I promise.

A few notes: Vanilla bean is expensive. You'll probably pay close to $10 for two beans. But seriously, it's Thanksgiving and it's worth it (do you see those flecks of vanilla in the dough?). Pony up.  

Also, if you (like me) are not practiced at biscuit making, you're in for a surprise. The dough doesn't form a ball in the mixing process. When you combine the wet and dry ingredients, stop mixing once you have clumps that look like the below picture. They will come together just barely enough to cut out the biscuits.

Because not everyone owns a biscuit cutter.

Vanilla Biscuits with Cranberry Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream
adapted very slightly from Martha Stewart's Cooking School cookbook

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tbs. cornstarch
3 tbs. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 vanilla bean
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cups cold buttermilk
2 tbs. heavy cream (for brushing)
sugar for sprinkling

Cranberry Sauce
4-5 oz. fresh or frozen (and thawed) cranberries
2 tbs. sugar (or more to taste)

Whipped Cream 
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs. confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract 

Whisk together flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, incorporate the butter into the dry mix until you have a crumbly mixture (pieces should be the size of small peas). 

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the beans out using a knife. Mix vanilla bean and vanilla extract into buttermilk and whisk. Add buttermilk to the flour mixture, stirring with a fork until the ingredients are incorporated. As pictured above, the resulting "dough" will remain in separate lumps. Turn dough onto a clean work surface and work the pieces together with your hands, folding the dough onto itself a few times. Work the dough into a rectangle 1 to 1-1/4 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter (or round measuring cup or cleaned-out soup can), cut out 6 biscuits (for the sixth biscuit, you'll need to gather the scraps together and form the biscuit). Place biscuits onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chill biscuits in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking. Brush tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 10 minutes and rotate cookie sheet. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and cook for 10 more minutes. Transfer biscuits to a cooling rack. 

Cranberry sauce: While biscuits are baking, put cranberries and sugar in a food processor or mini-chopper and blend until mixture is chunky. Obviously you can add water or extra sugar and blend longer to get a saucier consistency. Do whatever you like. I served the cranberry sauce cold, but this mix can certainly be warmed in a saucepan or the microwave.

Whipped cream: Place a glass or metal mixing bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. Mix heavy cream in the cold bowl using a hand mixer at high speed. Once soft peaks form, add sugar and vanilla, and mix until cream is thick.

Makes 6 biscuits and toppings

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