Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Road to Better Biscuits is Paved with Imagination: Savory Biscuits with Goat Cheese, Tarragon and Chives + Rustic Biscuits with Candied Bacon and Jalapeno

It’s been an auspicious week. First came the package from the James Beard Foundation, and in it, neatly frapped and securely placed on a thick piece of cardboard was my James Beard Award Nominee diploma, looking very fancy and respect inducing. It almost made me feel like a culinary deity. In the spirit of full disclosure, it did make me feel a little bit like a culinary deity, and for about an hour or two I walked around the apartment absorbed in positive vibrations and feel-good-about-myself-tickly-sensation that permeated my being. But then, it was the time to do the laundry, and clean the bathrooms, and cook something for the family and not for the blog, and I had to let go of the diploma and the vapors of importance that came with it.

A day later, another package arrived. It was from the good folks at King Arthur Flour. And yet another surprise! They’ve gifted me with a five-pound bag of their unbleached self-rising flour, spatula and cookie cutter, and challenged me to “make a better biscuit”. In the spirit of full disclosure, I already pitched in for a five-pound bag of King Arthur unbleached self-rising flour, since I bake with it all the time, and I have just bought a new spatula, but don’t we all love gifts!!! I often ponder about it, about that tiny stretch of our DNA helix, which, no matter who we are, no matter what we do, no matter what we have, makes us vibrating with excitement in the presence of gifts, freebies and all-you-can-eat buffets?

Just in case you have not observed it as yet, three times is the charm, hence, just like snafus, auspicious events always arrive in triplets. Like you find twenty bucks on the street, or you score a designer dress on sale, or your hubby buys you a new blender out of a clear blue sky. And then something else happens, like your project is a smashing success, or you recipe becomes a finalist in Food52 contest, or you get invited to a party in Catskills that comes with a weekend stay. And that is when you know that you are riding the wave baby, and that good-luck-shipment-number-three is coming down your way. Although, I wonder how the rule will apply itself in my particular case, since today is Sunday and there are no postal deliveries on Sunday? Hence, I plan on spending the day in the apartment doing nothing and waiting, curious to see how my good luck will materialize.

Given that I am in the apartment, waiting, I could perhaps begin to contemplate the question of better biscuits. So, how does one make better biscuits these days? Chances are that one cannot, because most likely, the best biscuit formula has already been invented. And there are thousands of them (if you do not trust me, please check the Internet, circulating cookbooks, cookbooks out of print and plethora of other resources. The volumes have been written about the topic)!!! And although it would be difficult to establish which recipe is the best, because it would take several lifetimes to try them all, at least let us observe that they all appear to be grounded firmly in science; they teach us these perfect ratios of flour, butter, buttermilk and leavening agents and rely on phenomena like: A) “fats low in moisture (say shortening) will create more distinct dough layers, but butter (containing say about 15% of water) is useful in producing additional steam, which in turn helps push the layers apart,” or B) "blend the liquid and dry ingredients just until the dough resembles cottage cheese, this stops you from activating too much gluten in the flour and ending up with a tougher biscuit that doesn't rise as high," or C) "a good biscuit starts with good flour and many Southern cooks use self-rising flour because it is pre-mixed to include a blend of hard and soft wheat, as well as the optimal mix of leavening ingredients for the perfect rise." These recipes are rooted in the laws of physics, chemical reactions and decades of kitchen practice and experimentation; consequently, one would have to be Harold McGee or Robert Wolke to add to the equation.

I do not think that I am up for the challenge.

But I am not for giving up either. So perhaps I can take another route? One might not be able to make a better biscuit formula, but one can put one’s imagination and creativity to a good use and create a "new" biscuit, a "different" biscuit, an "exciting" biscuit and a flavor paring, which might not have been tried before. As in biscuits with roasted corn and red pepper... As in breakfast biscuits with apricot and herbs... As in biscuits with prosciutto, rosemary and Parmesan crust... Because, in case you have not observed it as yet, a good biscuit dough is like blank canvas, waiting to receive its piece of magic. As in savory biscuits with goat cheese, tarragon and chives... As in rustic biscuits with candied bacon and jalapeno... As in biscuits with lard and pork cracklings. As in... And since I have entire Sunday at my disposal, waiting for the good luck to kick in, I might as well keep on going.

Savory Biscuits with Goat Cheese, Tarragon and Chives

* 8 oz self rising flour (I used King Arthur's unbleached self rising flour)
* 5 oz goat Gouda
* 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
* 2-3 tbsp minced chives
* 1 1/2 tbsp minced tarragon
* 1/8 tablespoon coarsely grounded pepper
* 1/4 cup heavy cream for brushing (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grate the cheese on a medium coarse microplane. In a large bowl, mix the flour, cheese, herbs and pepper. Add the cream and stir gently until the dough becomes cohesive.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the dough and place in a heap on the baking sheet (or you can gently shape them with the icecream scoop). Leave about one inch of space between the heaps of dough. If you like deep golden crust, brush the tops of the biscuits with cream. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 16-18 minutes, until the biscuits are light golden brown. Remove the biscuits from the oven, let them cool slightly and serve.

Makes about 12 biscuits

Rustic Biscuits with Candied Bacon and Jalapeno 

* 8 oz self rising flour (I used King Arthur's unbleached self rising flour)
* 3 oz cold butter
* 3/4 cup cold buttermilk
* 4 oz bacon (about 3-4 thick slices)
* 2 medium jalapeno peppers
* 1 tbsp Turbinado sugar
* about 1/2-1 tsp smoked paprika

First make the candied bacon. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cut the bacon slices in half, crosswise. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the bacon slices on the sheet in a single layer and sprinkle them with the brown sugar and smoked paprika. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the bacon is caramelized and crispy. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, discard the fat and let the bacon cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut the butter into pea-sized dice. Place the dice into the freezer for a couple of minutes, so that they are very cold and very firm. Cut the bacon into 1/4-inch dice. Cut the jalapenos in half, remove the seeds and then cut the peppers into 1/8-inch dice.

Place the flour and butter into a bowl of food processor. Pulse to cut in the butter, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Place the mixture in a bowl. Add the bacon and jalapeno, and gently mix with a wooden spoon. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk. Using a wooden spoon, stir just until dough forms. (Avoid overworking the dough. )

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead two or three times. Pat the dough out to a 1/2-inch thick round. Using a lightly floured 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp out biscuits as close together as possible. In between cutting, dip the cutter into flour, it will make it easier to cut the biscuits. (Needless to say,
you can ditch patting the dough and you can ditch the cookie cutter, and instead spoon the dough onto the baking sheet, as in the previous recipe. That is my favorite way to do things in the biscuit world.)
Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Keep about one inch of space between the biscuits. Bake for about 14 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden. Serve slightly warm. 

Makes about 10 biscuits


  1. I always saw scone batter as a good base for creativity in the kitchen. This post just proves that :

    1. Thank you... I have to admit that I like my scones dressed up :)

  2. Congratulations! You should feel like that. Being acknowledged for your work can make you feel amazing. Savor it!
    As for the scones, they are inspired.

    1. Thank you. I guess we are suckers for being recognized... :)


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