Let’s face it. The Bay area weather hasn’t really been up to snuff lately. What’s worse is we’re talking rainy weekends here, people. Last week was no different. We got two glorious days of sunshine that turned into a gray, rainy weekend. To add insult to injury, now as I write this on Sunday evening, the sun is out.
My pre-Monday morning blues just got bluer.
I think I love winter and gray skies way more than the average person, but it is almost a month into spring. Really weather gods, could you get with the program already? Given that this is Northern California, those May flowers are inevitable, why the April storms? We’re also probably well stocked with the Hetch Hetchy for now, what with the intense winter. How about we get a break, huh? More importantly, a weekend truce. A break from this weird “will it, won’t it?” pro-con game you’ve got us playing. Because frankly, it’s getting on my nerves.
Yesterday, it rained when I was inside and stopped when I came out. The black clouds though, hovered with this pervading sense of threat. When you’re juggling a few odds-and-ends up certain hills, without any actual rain but with an umbrella that keeps knocking you in the shins every second step, all you want to do is hurl it at the sky in your very own Jay & Silent Bob “Damn yous all to hell” moment. Yet not carrying such protection leaves you at the mercy of the contrary elements, which you cannot risk. So there you are, feeling a complete fool for trying to be prepared. Not to mention feeling the pain in those very sore shins.
That same unreal pro-con feeling seeped through most of my weekend. On the pro side, I finally made it back to Omnivore Books as I’ve meaning to since my last trip. On the con side, I forgot to check updates and walked into a shop where Alice Waters sat signing copies of her books. Yes, I love getting my books signed. No, I did not have my copy of The Art of Simple Food. I couldn’t even make eye contact with the author, talk about a completely absurd sense of guilt! Omnivore Books is intimate enough that it is not easy to browse all the shelves when there’s a book signing set up. So with a quick perusal, we turned to head out.
Just as we were by the entrance, I found the real pro side. Well, Amey found it, I was too busy miserably eying the floor. There, on the table by the door, was this book. It caught his attention because the aesthetic screamed architecture so much more than cook book. Looking through a few pages, he turned around and said that my day was starting to look up as he gently placed this gorgeous pearly volume in my hands. There it was, a fabulous marriage of two of my favourite things, architecture and food, the last of two copies. Providence sure works mysteriously. I’ve never been more excited about a book since Nigel Slater’s Appetite. I promise to tell you how I find it soon.
Moving on to the supermarket for groceries, we found that they were out of three key ingredients for this dish I was planning to make. Paint me disgruntled. I mean what self-respecting greengrocer runs out of onions? Chalking it up to the weird weekend, we headed back home. Being the flexible Gemini that I am, I changed tack and decided to have a crack at something that I’ve kept bubbling on the back-burner for a while; that all-American creation, the bread-like biscuit.
I’ve talked about my biscuit-cookie dilemma before and I’ve managed the other biscuits..erm, cookies. But I’ve never made a true-blue American biscuit. Every time I think about it, my head swims a little. Today, in those quick, commercial type places, there is very little difference between what is sold under the name of biscuit or scone or muffin, with each crossing into the realm of the other. Not to mention so many muffins should really be called cupcakes, that’s how sweet they are. Gah! It’s enough to make one swear off all bread-like creations. Put simplistically, they differ from each other in variations of ratio and types of liquid used and the presence or absence of sugar. The ones I decided to bake are called drop biscuits.
Drop biscuits are basically biscuits with enough liquid in their dough that allows them to be dropped from a spoon. They are ready in a jiffy. Depending on what kind of savoury biscuits or scones you have had in your life, these could taste to you like either. You mix together the usual suspects of baking, butter and flour, with their often-cohorts, baking powder and baking soda. Toss in a little salt, a bit of sugar, some buttermilk…badabing-badaboom, what you have is a beaut white canvas which is open to be painted on in all kinds of flavour. Rosemary and roasted garlic, chive and Gruyere, olives and oregano, honey and thyme, the sky’s the limit.
I made three batches, one with cheese and scallions as the original recipe suggested. Only I used used sharp habanero cheddar, which gave the biscuit a nice kick. I gave the second batch a more fiery and Asian touch with sriracha and soy sauce, along with some diced leek and poppy seed. Fabulous! The third was sweet-savoury, with some basil, chives, honey, garlic, brie and strawberry conserve. Sounds weird I know, but it worked great. Baked for a scant fifteen or so minutes, you get this rubbly biscuit with a crumbly crust and a lovely cakey inside. The little unruly mounds turn a golden-brown colour and fall apart at little coaxing. I’m sure they’d be fabulous dunked into something or with something spread over them. They are superb on their own. We ate a couple of them plain and one with some extra butter. Dee-lish!
Cheddar and scallion drop biscuits
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, Jan 2002
Makes 12 biscuits
All-Purpose flour – 2 1/4 cups
Baking Powder – 2 1/2 tsp
Sugar – 1 tsp
Baking soda – 3/4 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Butter, unsalted – 7 tbsp, cold & cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Buttermilk – 1 cup
Sharp Cheddar – 2 cups, grated
Scallions – 6, finely chopped
– Preheat the oven to 450°F.
– Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Sift together all the dry ingredients into a bowl.
– Work the cubes of butter into the flour mixture until it looks like a coarse meal.
– Add in the grated cheddar and chopped scallions and stir to combine.
– Pour in the buttermilk and fold in only until combined completely.
– Divide the dough into 12 equal parts and drop the dough onto the cookie sheet with an inch or so in between each.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.
You learn something new about something old every day. What I learned today is that when my oven is hot, it is really hot! Batches two and three cooked within 10 and 8 minutes respectively. I kid you not. But then I’ve often thought that my oven is controlled by erratic ghosts in the machine. Yours may be more normal.
The cheddar here should be sharp, all flavours become milder once they are baked in this recipe. The recommendations from Gourmet are wonderful. But don’t let that stop you from messing with the dish. Never was a recipe more conducive to the messing. If you want a sweeter drop biscuit, use two tablespoons of sugar and reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon along with sweet flavouring of your choosing. Chocolate, cherries, cranberries are a few that come to mind. You might have some great ones in mind. I’d love to hear what yours are.
On the con side, I couldn’t make the dish I wanted to share with you today. But on the pro side, I’m glad I finally got to these biscuits. They are great on their own or served alongside your preferred meal. But on a bleak, gray day, baking in your oven, your kitchen effused with warmth, they are phenomenal. The warmth will add colour to any washed out, gray day proceedings. I see you, Monday blues, and I raise you a golden biscuit.