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Claire Saffitz can do anything in the kitchen. As the former host of Bon Appétit’s “Gourmet Makes,” Claire rose to YouTube stardom for her ability to recreate our favorite snack foods from scratch, bringing frustration, flair, and a good deal of humor to the challenge of baking, say, Twinkies or Gushers. On a recent episode of How To!, Claire argued that anyone can be a baker—and that improvisation in the kitchen can help us adapt to difficult situations in the rest of our lives. Joining us by Zoom, Claire and our listener baked miso buttermilk biscuits together, a recipe from Claire’s new cookbook Dessert Person that is the perfect antidote to your winter blues and pandemic cooking fatigue (see recipe below). This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Charles Duhigg: So what are we going to make today?
Claire Saffitz: Today we’re going to make a recipe for miso buttermilk biscuits. I think most people would have all the ingredients to make these biscuits at home already. It comes together relatively quickly, but it is a really interesting spin on the classic American flaky buttermilk biscuit. The thing about baking is yes, there are rules, techniques, and procedures you have to follow, but once you know and understand them, that’s when you can start to break the rules a little bit.
For example, let’s say you don’t have buttermilk. You’re going to start with whole milk as a base and we’re going to add in a little bit of yogurt for the acidity, and then we might even add a little bit of lemon juice or white vinegar. One thing is that buttermilk, because it is acidulated and cultured, basically never goes bad. I think people get really freaked out about things spoiling, and so tend not to buy buttermilk. But buttermilk, if it tastes fine, looks fine, smells fine—it’s fine.
Charles: So we’re talking about making substitutions to a recipe, but you’ve described yourself as someone who always used to need to follow the recipes perfectly. Did going on video for “Gourmet Makes” and making mistakes on video help you stress less and get used to being comfortable in the kitchen?
Claire: I think it did. When I started to give myself permission to mess up on camera and then I saw that other people gave me permission to do that, it reinforced that feeling that it was OK. I learned to love “Gourmet Makes” because it was about the intersection of creativity and problem solving, and I think it’s important to show that mistakes happen all the time. I grew up on the kind of glossy food shows where you have a straightforward presentation of the recipe and by the miracle of TV there’s a swap and it comes out perfectly. That’s not what it’s like to cook at home in anyone’s kitchen. So I think it’s really important to show that sometimes my stuff doesn’t turn out either. Now I love the things that are imperfect about the desserts that I make or the recipes that I create. Cooking and baking have made me better at facing my fears in other realms because I forced myself to do things that feel scary in the kitchen—it makes you feel a lot more powerful and in control.
Charles: And so when it comes to experimenting and doing things that feel scary, I’ve never heard of putting miso in biscuits before, which might just show you how uncultured I am. How did you get that idea?
Claire: You know, miso biscuits are a very close cousin of cheesy biscuits. Miso shares that kind of cheesy flavor and I think it’s become a more well-known ingredient in the United States. And I love the kind of challenge of baking with something so salty, and so it felt like it would be a great addition to a savory biscuit. Why not? I made it and it’s delicious.
To follow along as Claire bakes miso buttermilk biscuits, listen to the episode by clicking the player below or subscribing to How To! with Charles Duhigg wherever you get your podcasts. The full recipe is available below for reference.
Claire Saffitz’s Miso Buttermilk Biscuits
Active Time: 40 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus time to cool | Difficulty: 1 (Very Easy)
Most people know miso from Japanese miso soup, but they might not be aware of all the incredible applications this salty, funky umami-rich paste (made from fermented soybeans) has in cooking and baking. I’ve played around with it in sweet recipes with only limited success, but Chris Morocco from the Bon Appétit test kitchen has made a convincing case that it’s definitely possible (check out his miso almond butter cookies recipe on bonappetit.com). In these flaky, fluffy, savory biscuits, I mash a staggering ½ cup sweet white miso, one of the milder varieties, into cold buttermilk and mix it into the dough. The miso both seasons the dough and contributes an almost cheesy flavor. It makes a fantastic biscuit that works just as well served with scrambled eggs as it does as the base for a katsu sandwich. Or you can just do as I recommend and serve them warm with miso butter.
Makes 16 biscuits
½ cup sweet white miso (4.8 oz / 136g)
1¼ cups buttermilk (10.6 oz / 300g), chilled
3¼ cups all-purpose flour (15 oz / 423g), plus more for rolling out
1 tablespoon baking powder (0.42 oz / 12g)
1 tablespoon sugar (0.46 oz / 13g)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz / 227g), cut into ½-inch pieces, chilled, plus 2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28g), melted, for brushing
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven and prepare the baking sheet: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Mix the miso and buttermilk: Place the miso in the bottom of a medium bowl and pour in a couple of tablespoons of the buttermilk. Mash with a fork until smooth, then add a few more tablespoons of buttermilk and continue to mash until you have a smooth, lump-free paste. Repeat the process until you’ve worked about half of the buttermilk into the miso and you have a smooth, pourable mixture (working the buttermilk in just a bit at a time helps prevent lumps). Whisk in the rest of the buttermilk until smooth. Refrigerate while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
3. Mix the dry ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and baking soda to combine. Work in the butter: Add the pieces of butter to the bowl with the flour mixture and toss to coat. Then use your fingertips to quickly smash all the pieces into the flour mixture, flattening them and breaking up into bits.
4. Mix in the miso buttermilk: Stirring the mixture constantly with a fork, drizzle the buttermilk mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula or bench scraper, fold the mixture several times inside the bowl to bring the dough together and ensure that it’s evenly combined. It will be a bit wet and sticky.
5. Form the biscuits: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Use floured hands to pat it into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the dough in half lengthwise and again crosswise to create quadrants. Stack the quadrants one on top of the other, dust a bit more flour on top and underneath the dough, and then roll out the stack with a rolling pin into a square measuring about 8½-inches across (this stacking and rolling step creates flakiness).
6. Cut and chill the biscuits: Using a sharp knife, trim the edges to straighten so you have a neat 8-inch square. Then cut the square into sixteen 2-inch squares (a 4 x 4 grid). Transfer each square to the prepared baking sheet, spacing evenly. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes to allow the butter to firm up.
7. Brush with butter and bake: Brush the tops of the chilled biscuits with the 2 tablespoons melted butter and top with black pepper. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and reduce the temperature to 375°F. Bake until the tops of the biscuits are browned and the bottoms are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet.
DO AHEAD: The biscuits are best served the day they’re made but will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days. Rewarm the biscuits before serving. The unbaked biscuits can be covered with plastic wrap on the baking sheet and refrigerated up to 24 hours or frozen up to 1 month. No need to thaw before baking (frozen biscuits may take a few minutes longer in the oven).
Note: To make miso butter to serve with the biscuits, mash together room temperature unsalted butter and miso with a fork in a small bowl until smooth—how much miso you add is up to your own taste, but I like about 1 part miso to 2 parts butter.
Reprinted from Dessert Person. Copyright © 2020 by Claire Saffitz. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Alex Lau. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House