I know, it’s getting a bit late for a Thanksgiving recipe suggestion. (The Times started rolling out its proposed menu weeks ago!) But the recipe I offer to you today consists of ingredients you likely already have on hand—no need to brave the elements to take a trip to the grocery store—and it may very well be easier to assemble than whatever breadstuff you already had planned for tomorrow’s feast. And if you didn’t already have a breadstuff planned for tomorrow’s feast, well, it’s not too late to see the error of your ways and repent.
“Angel biscuits” and “magic biscuits” are two old-fashioned, slightly hyperbolic names for buttermilk biscuits that contain both baker’s yeast and chemical leaveners (i.e., baking powder and baking soda). Typically, baked goods contain either yeast or chemical leaveners but not both. The unconventional combination of leavening agents results in biscuits that possess the best qualities of both buttermilk biscuits and yeast rolls: They’re either the fluffiest, most fragrant biscuits you’ve ever tasted or the most tender, buttery rolls you’ve ever had.
Angel biscuits are thematically appropriate for Thanksgiving, which Abraham Lincoln established in 1863 in an attempt to get the North and the South to set aside their differences and look for common ground. It didn’t really work, but remains an appealing notion. Sweet potatoes with maple syrup has been the traditional dish to symbolize national unity, and it’s a good one. But why not let your rolls—a crucial vehicle for gravy and cranberry sauce—represent a merging of regional traditions as well? This hybrid of buttermilk biscuits and Parker House rolls doesn’t just taste great—it’s a great edible metaphor, too.
Best of all, angel biscuits are flexible, which is an important quality for any dish you choose to serve on Thanksgiving. You can start making them at the very last minute, and they’ll be out of the oven in 45 minutes or less. Or you can assemble and roll out the dough ahead of time, let the unbaked biscuits sit for a few hours, and then bake them once the oven has a vacancy. You can even bake them a few hours in advance of the meal; unlike regular biscuits, they remain soft and delicious even after they’ve cooled.
Yield: 25 to 30 biscuits
Time: About 45 minutes, largely unattended
4½ teaspoons instant yeast or two ¼-ounce packets active dry yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 cups buttermilk
1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Combine the yeast with ¼ cup warm water—about the same temperature as the inside of your wrist—in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Add 1 cup (2 sticks) of the butter and blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the buttermilk and the yeast mixture and stir just until combined, then transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times.
3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s ¾ inch thick. Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet with the edges of the rounds touching. Gather up the dough scraps, roll them out, and repeat. Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for at least 10 minutes.
4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave). Brush the biscuits with the melted butter. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.