• The Retired Firehouse Cook: American-style Biscuits

    Watching the inauguration the other day, I was struck once again with the extreme variety of people who bless this country. In an age when other parts of the world are busy practicing ethnic cleansing, we are so lucky to live where we do, where everyone celebrates where they came from, but with an eye to the future and the melting pot that is America.
    Each immigrant group brings their own food and their own terminology to this country, but it’s amazing how many of the recipes are alike. We all know that “chips” in England are what we would call “cottage fries” here. Noodles seem to be universal, no matter who claims to have invented them. Pasties are related to empanadas. Turnovers looks like scones. Everyone makes soups and stews. And “cookies” in the U.S. are akin to “biscuits” in the U.K. Which brings us to biscuits, American-style.

    The basic recipe that I start with is the standard baking powder biscuit:

    2 c. all-purpose flour
    1 Tbsp. baking powder
    5 Tbsp. cold butter or margarine
    2/3 c. whole milk

    If you’re using unsalted butter, you’ll probably want to add about a half teaspoon of salt to the recipe.
    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and mix well. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or, like my grandma did, with your fingers. Mix it well, until it’s like grainy sand. Add the milk and stir some more until you can make a dough.
    Roll the dough out on a floured board and knead it 10-15 times, then press out to about ½ to ¾ inches thick. My grandma always used a jelly jar to cut out round biscuits, and I do, too. Jelly jars I always have. Biscuit cutters are another question.
    Put the cut biscuits on a cookie sheet (no need to grease) and bake 12-14 minutes, or until they look done.
    We didn’t butter them again at our house. They were served room temperature. Grandmama had a wire rack with little feet that she put on the counter and covered with half of a dish towel (usually made from a flour sack she’d saved). She put the biscuits on it from the oven, covered with the other half and let them sit for 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.
    Flavors? I forgot the part about adding things like minced chives, bacon bits, Italian seasoning and allspice to the recipe. Grandmama always did it by-guess-and-by-gosh, so you need to find your own way with the additions.
    Marge Ann, coming from a deep South tradition, likes her biscuits hot and wants the butter to melt, so they go straight from the oven to the table. She remembers as a child pulling the soft center out and leaving the crusty part, then filling that crust with jelly. She doesn’t do that any more – at least in public.
    If you want to pull the soft center out, you probably want to arrange the raw biscuits on the cookie sheet with the sides touching. If you isolate them, you get a crunchier biscuit because they bake on all sides.
    I admit it: I’m pie crust-challenged. I always seem to overwork them and wind up having to use a chain saw to cut them. If you remember my column on pasties, I advised using a commercial frozen pie crust. Another method, depending on what you’re using as a filling, is to make the crust out of biscuit dough.
    Here’s a meat pie (Is it Scottish? German? Who cares?) that uses a biscuit dough crust. I have another recipe I’ll share at another time for a meat pie made with ground beef with flour cut in, but for now let’s try the pork version:

    Pork Pie with Biscuit Crust
    Meat Filling
    1 Lb. ground lean pork
    1 c. chopped yellow onion
    1 tsp. thyme
    ½ tsp. salt
    ½ tsp allspice
    pepper to taste

    Cook the filling mixture in a frying pan, mixing well to get it cooked through and getting rid of any lumps. When it’s cooked through, drain off any fat and let it cool while you make the crust. You might also want to preheat the oven to 425.

    Biscuit Crust
    11/2 c. all-purpose flour
    2 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. salt
    ½ tsp. thyme
    ¼ tsp. allspice
    3 Tbsp. butter
    ½ c. plus 1 Tbsp. milk

    Put the flour, baking powder, salt, thyme and allspice in a bowl and mix well. Cut in the butter and mix until it makes lumps the size of peas. Add the milk and stir with a fork until the dough is workable.
    Put the mixture on a floured board and knead it about 10 times. Divide the crust in half and roll half of it out to about ½ inch wider than your pie pan. Line the pan with the dough and spread it out evenly.
    Roll our the other half of the dough and place it on top. Pinch the edges together – you might have to wet the edges a little with water to make them pinch shut.
    If you want to glaze the pie, beat an egg with a couple of tablespoons of water and brush it on. That’s when company is coming.
    Bake the pie 20 minutes, or until golden on top. Cover with a piece of foil and cook another 10 minutes.
    Let it sit about 10 minutes before serving or you’ll play heck trying to cut it.
    This recipe always makes more than we can eat at dinner, but it reheats really well for lunch the next day – or even breakfast. Who says you have to follow the American tradition of boring old cold cereal every morning?





    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 23, 2009

    Topics: The Retired Firehouse Cook

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