I have been carefully trained to look upon garlic powder with great disdain.
At the third Ann Arbor Ignite last Thursday, the audience cheered and applauded when the last speaker exhorted us to use fresh garlic instead of dried or powdered (about 41:40 here). And sure, in a recipe like the bolognese he was describing, I’d probably use fresh garlic, too, but that’s hardly a reason to cheer. The crowd’s reaction instead seemed symptomatic of the emblematic status fresh garlic has achieved. Its superiority has become one of the central commandments of the “food revolution,” and no wonder, it hits all the right notes: seems more “natural” and more “authentic,” supposedly better-tasting, and possibly healthier (although, as that site notes, it’s possible to dehydrate garlic without deactivating the enzymes with therapeutic value, which cooking can destroy). It also has the added bonus of a built-in villain in the form of its dehydrated, powdered counterpart, which for many people is associated with the industrial food system, bland mid-century midwestern cooking, and laziness.
But aside from being slightly more convenient for busy or novice cooks, garlic powder really works better for numerous applications—it dissolves in dips and gravies, it keeps dry rubs dry, and it can be sprinkled to taste on popcorn or pizza or whisked into the dry ingredients of any bread recipe. Instead of thinking of it as a bad substitute for the fresh stuff, I prefer to think of it as a pedestrian version of the powders made by bleeding-edge chefs like Alinea’s Grant Achatz and WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne. Sure, they often taste different than the non-powdered versions, but they open up a whole array of different uses. Of course, you could make biscuits with a garlic-infused fat or stud the dough with chunks of raw or roasted garlic, but neither of those options is going to give you the same intensity of flavor or evenness of distribution as garlic powder. And these biscuits definitely challenge the notion that powdered garlic can’t be delicious.
Most recipes for cheddar–garlic biscuits, even Paula Deen’s, simply suggest adding garlic powder and grated cheddar to a baking mix like Bisquick. That would probably be pretty good too, but I don’t have enough uses for Bisquick to keep it around (especially given that rumors about toxic molds developing in expired pancake and biscuit mixes turn out to be true, if somewhat overblown). So instead, I added garlic powder and grated cheddar to the recipe I use for rich, buttery biscuits. The recipe has a higher proportion of fat : flour than most baking powder biscuit recipes, so it makes biscuits that are rich enough to eat plain (and too rich to make a very good vehicle for gravy or butter). Whatever fat you use, it must be solid so chunks of it will remain in the dough. Those chunks melt during baking to create the flaky layers. Lard or shortening work slightly better than butter or margarine because they don’t contain water. However, butter is delicious, so I used half butter and half lard. If you don’t eat butter or lard, margarine or vegetable oil shortening should work equally well (although if you’re avoiding trans-fats, you should stick to ones composed largely of palm oil or produced by fractionation).
- 1/2 cup solid fat—I used 4 T. butter and 4 T. lard
- 9 oz. all-purpose or cake flour (about 2 cups)—I used bread flour with 2 T. replaced by cornstarch
- 2 1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1 1/2 t. powdered garlic
- 1 T. dried parsley and/or chives (optional)
- 4 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 cup)
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk soured with 1 T. lemon juice)
- extra flour for dusting
- extra milk for brushing biscuit tops
1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Cut the fat into pieces and chill while you prep the remaining ingredients.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, garlic, and herbs if using.
3. Toss the chilled pieces of fat with the flour and and combine them with a pastry cutter, crisscrossing knives, a food processor, or your bare hands—just don’t melt the bits of fat. You want the largest pieces of fat to be about the size of small peas.
4. Mix in the grated cheddar and the buttermilk or milk. Stir just until most of the flour is moistened—you don’t want gluten to form so the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible once you’ve combined the wet and dry ingredients.
5. Dust a table or countertop with flour, dump the dough onto it and press or knead together just enough to form a dough. Flatten the dough to between 1/2” and 1” thick and cut desired shapes—if you don’t have a biscuit cutter, a glass or empty jar will work, or you can just cut the dough into squares or triangles.
6. Place on an baking sheet (ungreased) and brush the tops with buttermilk. Place in preheated oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 450F and bake for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake another 5-7 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.