Doughs Part 2: Non-Yeast Breads

As we tackle our fear of dough, we work our way from the easiest to hardest. Well, maybe hard is not the word. Let’s say the most time consuming and needing of attention. Generally, this means yeasted doughs. While we are nearly at that destination, we have one more step before we tackle that favorite microorganism. There are many wonderful breads we can enjoy that do not require yeast. Some are flakey, like biscuits and scones, and others take advantage of an acid-base reaction to give it rise, like soda breads. There is a category called “quick breads.” These are delicious treats like banana bread or corn bread. But the process of making them is much more akin to making cake or muffin batter therefore, we will discuss them another day.

Butter-based Breads

All across America, people love the humble biscuit. A staple across the south with gravy or served along side fried chicken at your favorite chain restaurant, biscuits look and taste like flaky bread but actually have a lot more in common with pie dough. To make biscuits, we take out pie dough ratio and reverse the amount of liquid (I like whole milk or buttermilk for this) and butter. We take 3 parts flour and cut 1 part butter, by weight, into it, until it resembles small pebbles. We make a well and add the liquid and mix just until it has come together. You’ll want to add a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of baking powder per nine ounces of flour to give them the extra lift. Then just roll the dough out and cut into rounds of squares and bake. There is one additional step you can take to make your biscuits even flakier. Remember that rolling and folding and rolling again we did with puff pastry. That is called lamination and creates many layers of butter. We can do that with biscuits too. Unlike puff pastry, I only do it three times with biscuits and refrigerate just once, for 30 minutes, before baking.

There is another form of biscuit called drop biscuits. They are less flaky and more cakey. They also are not rolled out but instead dropped in scoops onto the baking sheet. I prefer these for gravy as they soak it up better. The process is the same but the ratio is a little different. I use 2 ½ parts flour (plus 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of baking powder per 10 oz of flour), to 1 part butter and 2 parts liquid. In this case you want to add only ¾ of the liquid and mix. We are looking for like a mashed potato texture. Then keep adding liquid if the dough is still too dry.

Scones are very similar to biscuits but are sweet and usually contain nuts or fruit mixed in. The process is the same as biscuits but again with slightly different ratios. Use 2 parts flour by weight. To this I add 3.5 oz of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of baking powder per 12 oz of flour. Then cut in 1-part butter and mix in 1-part heavy cream by weight. You could also whip the heavy cream and fold it in for a lighter texture. Some people like to use eggs in their scones. I sometimes use 1 egg per 12 oz of flour. If using an egg, reduce the amount of cream by 2 oz per egg. Then roll the dough into a thick circle, cut into wedges, and bake.

Acid-Base Reaction Breads
One reason bread rises is because yeast give off gas when they eat the sugars in the dough. This gas is then trapped by the gluten in the bread. When acids and bases react, a similar thing occurs. This is where we get soda bread from. Using buttermilk, which is very acidic, the baking soda in dough reacts and expands just like with that volcano you made in seventh grade. Soda bread is extremely easy to make. I use a ratio, by weight, of 5 parts flour to 4 parts buttermilk. I like to use a 50-50 blend of all purpose and whole wheat flour. Using 1 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt per 500 grams of flour, mix in the buttermilk until a dough forms. Shape it into a round loaf then cut 80 percent of the way through the dough to create the appearance of quarters. This helps the bread bake. And there you have it, bread that did not require yeast.