Week Thirty: Biscuits
One easy way to change the flavor and character of a biscuit is to substitute a different grain for some of the wheat flour. In the South, also known as the Land of Biscuits, people have long been making biscuits with cornmeal added to them. These are quite good when used as a topping for a casserole, or lightly sweetened and used on a cobbler or crisp; but they’re transcendent simply with butter and honey. Need I mention a pairing with barbecue?
And as much as I wanted to make cornmeal biscuits, that wonderful middle ground between biscuit and cornbread, as much as I wanted to enjoy a pleasant breakfast or two of coffee and a sunshine-yellow cornmeal biscuit, as much as I wanted an excuse to slow-cook a pork shoulder, I just couldn’t do it.
This is the reason. And this. And this. And these guys, too. The one thing all those recipes have in common is that they necessitated the purchase of strange and unusual flours. (It’s for the blog! Why not?) When I counted this morning, I had at least 14 different kinds of flour in my cabinet. Fourteen! Who does that?
And so, I’m beginning the slow march towards a cleaner pantry. I will use all these flours, come hell or high water. And I started today, with the buckwheat flour. No, these aren’t very similar to cornmeal biscuits, but they do use the same principle of adding a different grain to get a totally different biscuit. I figured it was as good a place as any to start.
After bidding a fond adieu to the charmingly rustic cornmeal biscuits in my mind, I turned my thoughts to a more cosmopolitan biscuit. If I was going to give up those carefully-plotted breakfasts (I was going to maybe even go out and buy a newspaper!), I wanted something darned special in return.
Knowing that buckwheat and salmon could hardly be better friends, I was enticed by images of smoked salmon ribboning over the edge of a tiny buckwheat biscuit, bending under the feather-weight of a homemade yogurt garnish. And certainly a heavy pinch of black pepper in the dough would add the soignée touch that would elevate these biscuits to black-tie status. For these, I was willing to give up cornmeal biscuits.
The end result was exactly what I had conjured: an earthy, blini-inspired take on ordinary biscuits, crisp-edged and tender inside, with a building heat from the black pepper that makes you sit up and pay attention. Bold and unassuming at the same time, potent and sophisticated, they’re the biscuit counterpart to that sneakily-lethal cocktail, the addictive French 75. You don’t need salmon to enjoy these biscuits, as they were a lovely match for a thick cup of coffee at breakfast, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if you had some lying around.
As much as I do enjoy cornmeal biscuits, they can wait. I figure there’s plenty of cold weather up ahead that will be begging for any excuse to heat things up with a nice bit of pork in the oven, roasting away for hours on end. Until then, I’ll just enjoy this gorgeous summer warmth with an excuse to cure a side of salmon with lemon and dill, stashed safely in the refrigerator!
Buckwheat Pepper Biscuits
Adapted from Crescent City Collection: A Taste of New Orleans, by the Junior League of New Orleans
Makes about 15
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
6 ounces (1 1/3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 ounces (2/3 cups) buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup cold buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Cut the butter into as small pieces as possible. Pile loosely on a small plate and freeze while preparing remaining ingredients.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Add partly-frozen butter and moving quickly, toss and pinch butter into flour with fingertips, tossing the mixture around to be sure to reach all pieces of butter, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Large flakes or pea-sized lumps are just fine.
3. Add the buttermilk to the flour mixture, and fold quickly but gently with a fork or nonstick spatula until all dry ingredients are moistened and a rough dough forms.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. With floured hands, press the dough together into a cohesive mass. Liberally dust the top with flour, and fold the dough in half (you may need to use a bench scraper to help with this).
5. Using a rolling pin, and dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking, gently roll the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick. With a round cutter or a small drinking glass, and using a decisive stamping movement, cut as many biscuits as you can, cutting each out as closely as possible to the next one. Do not twist the cutter. Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet.
6. Gather scraps together by gathering in from the sides, pressing the cut sides together. Do not re-knead or re-roll for the best results. Form biscuits from scraps either by hand-shaping or by cutting. Transfer scrap biscuits to the prepared baking sheet.
7. Bake biscuits at 400° F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Let cool on the pan for a minute or so, then transfer biscuits to a wire rack to finish cooling. Serve warm.
1. Biscuits can be stored at room temperature, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, for 6 to 8 hours. Before serving, rewarm in a 350° F oven for 5 minutes. If not eating within that time, freeze, wrapped in foil. To serve, bake unthawed and unwrapped, for 10 minutes at 350° F.