Angel biscuits are a delicate and delicious hybrid of yeasted buns and baking powder biscuits, combining all the best attributes of both: delightfully yeasty flavour and light flaky texture. One buttery bite of these fantastic little buns will have you devouring the whole thing in no time. (Skip to recipe.)
When I need a little escape from the realities of my life, I shut my eyes and go back to my time spent at the cabin - that idyllic time away from all the little stresses that can pile up to derail us. The biggest problems at the lake were swatting mosquitoes, making sure there were enough magazines in the outhouse, and deciding what to cook for dinner.
Fresh trout was always an option, as well as some of the delicious wild meat provided by my sister, along with lots of fresh veggies, fruits, and our cabin-baked goods. It's always fun to experiment with recipes when I get together with my sisters. And today's recipe is a little gem we learned from our neighbour in this close little community at our end of the lake. Irene and Dave Oliver have been spending their summers at their cabin on François Lake for decades, and they spend their winters on Haida Gwaii with its mild coastal climate and spectacular natural beauty. When Irene invited us over for a bowl of Haida Gwaii seafood chowder and biscuits, we were like the road runner breaking through a wall to get there!
Irene's chowder is light and creamy, yet rich and flavourful at the same time. I love that the base isn't a thick, starchy pudding-like sludge (I have a hard time getting those types of soups down), but a silky broth both creamy and bursting with flavour. I'm sure I could never recreate it here at home. She had loaded up her chowder with heaps of vacuum-sealed and frozen seafood she'd brought along from the islands: cockles (Haida Marine Traditional Knowledge Study, page 29), crab, and halibut. Her trick to a super creamy chowder broth was to purée the uncooked cockles to a smooth mass, then add them to the soup. Cockles need to be cooked for a very short time or they can become tough, so Irene's way of treating them brought in all their delicate flavour, but ensured there were no rubbery bits in the soup. The crab and halibut were diced and added to the soup right at the very end. The base for Irene's chowder consisted of sautéed onions, bacon, carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, added broth, and her own blend of spices (including Old Bay seasoning). A can of evaporated milk produced the creaminess along with the puréed cockles.
Altogether it was a bowl of the best seafood chowder I've ever tasted. And to top it off, Irene served the chowder with a big basket of her Angel Biscuits - a buttery combination of flaky biscuit and rich dinner bun. What a treat!
Since I can't really replicate Irene's unforgettable seafood chowder here, I'll share with you her recipe for Angel Biscuits, along with my gluten-free adaptation (very close to the tender original).
Making Angel Biscuits
The name says it all - food for angels! These biscuits are the best of two delicious worlds - light and flaky buttermilk biscuits married to buttery, fluffy yeasted buns. They're a cinch to make (you just need to plan a bit of rising time), and you can mix them very lightly to be more biscuit-like, or knead them well to be more bun-like (a rich and buttery bun).
Make the dough and pat it into a rough rectangle, then cut out circles, or just cut it into smaller rectangles.
Bake til lightly golden and puffy.
Or knead the dough like for bread, and you'll produce rich, tender buns (great for burgers, too).
Angel buns will turn any meal or snack time into a little slice of heaven.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Angel biscuits freeze well after baking. Freeze in an airtight freezer bag or container for up to 3 months.
Gluten Free Angel Biscuits
adapted from Irene Oliver's recipe
(Scroll down for regular Angel Biscuits)
makes 9 large biscuits
- 3 tablespoons ground golden flax seeds
- 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons warm water (110-115°F/43-46°C)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 package active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
- 1 cup (155gms) sweet rice flour (glutinous rice flour/mochiko)
- 1 cup (125gms) tapioca flour/starch
- ¾ cup (90gms) brown rice flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt (increase to ½ teaspoon if using shortening or unsalted butter)
- ½ cup (115gms) cold salted butter (or shortening)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing the tops of the biscuits once baked, optional
Stir together the ground flax seeds and buttermilk and set aside to gel for 15 to 30 minutes before starting the biscuits.
Stir together the warm water and ½ teaspoon of sugar in a cup or small bowl. Add the yeast and stir. Leave to proof for 5 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is puffed up and foamy.
In a large bowl combine all of the dry ingredients: sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, brown rice flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Cut the butter in cubes and add it to the dry ingredients. Cut it in with a pastry cutter or two knives until it is reduced to pea-sized lumps (or press out the butter cubes into large flakes with your fingers).
Add the proofed yeast and buttermilk mixture and stir to moisten, then knead lightly 3 or 4 times just until the mixture comes into a ball. Do not overmix. It's good if you can still see some lumps of butter in the dough.
On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough out into a 7" x 9" rectangle that is about ¾-inch (1.9 cm) thick. Cut into 9 smaller rectangles.
Place the biscuits about 1-inch (2.5cm) apart on a greased baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel, and leave to rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size - about 1 to 1½ hours.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) and bake the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden on top.
While hot, brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter.
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Regular Angel Biscuits (or Buns)
recipe courtesy of Irene Oliver
makes 18 large biscuits (extras freeze well)
- ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water (110-115°F/43-46°C)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 packages active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons each)
- 2 cups lukewarm buttermilk, (100-110°F/38-43°C)
- 5½ cups (770gms) flour
- ⅓ cup sugar (I use ¼ cup/50gms)
- 1 teaspoon salt (reduce to ½ teaspoon if using salted butter)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup cold shortening or butter (I use butter)
- ¼ cup melted butter for brushing the tops of the biscuits once baked, optional
- Stir together the warm water and the 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and stir it in, then allow the yeast to proof until puffed and foamy (5 to 10 minutes). Stir in the buttermilk and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour with the sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
- Cut in the shortening or butter with a pastry cutter or two knives until it is in small pea-sized lumps.
- Add the yeast/buttermilk mixture and stir to moisten, then knead lightly 3 or 4 times just until the mixture comes into a ball. Do not overmix. It's good if you can still see some lumps of butter in the dough.
- On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough out into a large circle that is ¾-inch (1.9 cm) thick. Cut out rounds with a 2½-inch (6cm) biscuit cutter, or divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a ¾-inch thick rectangle, then cut each into 9 rectangles.
- Place the biscuits about 1-inch (2.5cm) apart on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel, and leave to rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size - 1 to 1½ hours.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) and bake the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden on top.
- While hot, brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter.
*OPTION: Make ANGEL BUNS instead of biscuits: At Step 4, instead of kneading lightly 3 to 4 times, knead the dough like regular bread dough for 10 minutes, until the ball is smooth and elastic-y. Then, instead of flattening the dough and cutting out biscuits, cut the dough ball into 10 equal-sized pieces and roll each piece into a round bun, pulling and tucking the ends underneath. Place on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet, 2 inches (5cm) apart, and rise and bake as directed in steps 6 to 8.
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