A (Mossy) Spring Biscuit
I hear from my family in California that they’ve finally had some rain and snow. This is good; when we were in Mariposa for Christmas, I learned that they had had only one day of rain from May to Christmas. Surely drought is a frightful thing, but I must admit that as we look toward moving to California at the end of May the perpetual sunshine sounds oh so good.
I shouldn’t complain, we do live in a rainforest after all. And one of Jacob’s many first words was “moss.” “Mossy moss,” to be precise, which is exactly right. Here, even the moss is mossy.
But spring in Vancouver is vibrant and colourful and so very welcome. We’ve had a handful of sunny days over the last few weeks (including a three day stretch during which I sat in the sun in only a tee shirt, at least for a little while, while holding a cup of hot coffee) so the cherry trees are beginning to burst with blossoms, and the daffodils and hyacinth are up; the crocuses and snowdrops have been here for a while now and are already beginning to make their exit. Still, it is chilly and each day’s weather is utterly unpredictable, moving from sun to clouds to hail to rain to sun again in a matter of hours or even minutes. I find the weather a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation. And so are biscuits for that matter, yes, a delightful topic now that I think of it.
Though born in New York, my husband has southern roots, and the majority of his extended family live in and around Atlanta, Georgia or in Mississippi. His late grandmother on his father’s side lived in Morehead City, North Carolina. I have one of her old cookbooks on my shelf: “The Chapel Hill Cookbook” put out by the Junior Service League in 1964. (There’s a pretty hilarious introduction on page 3 called “How to Cook a Husband,” that begins, “A good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mismanagement in cooking and so are not tender and good,” but that’s for another post). Perhaps this newly acquired southern (albeit distant) presence in my life is why I have been striving to make the perfect biscuit for the past few years now. I’ve tried out a few attempts on southern friends of ours who currently live in this mossy mossy rainforest with us, with marginal success. Let’s be honest: I just want to be that west coast in-law who can make a biscuit with the best of ‘em.
Here’s the thing: I can’t shake my health-conscious, whole-wheat obsessed, west coast sensibility. I know a light, fluffy biscuit is due in good part to the white flour used, but I just can’t get my hand to direct the copper cup measure into the all-purpose flour canister more than once. It obstinately travels to the whole wheat canister despite my best intentions. And follow up all the butter in the dough by dipping the biscuit in melted butter before baking to then, at the table, slather on more butter? My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak!
So. Here is a recipe that doesn’t even try to be traditional. It is, yes, made partly with whole wheat flour. And in an (unsuccessful) attempt to get more vegetables into Jacob and to satisfy my impulse for altering recipes, there’s a whole lot of other stuff in there, too. Green stuff. Veritable spring green. You might even call these “Northwest Coast Rain-Induced Mossy Biscuits.” Look at that: weather and biscuits in one conversation. And the sun has come out here to boot.
“Northwest Coast Rain-Induced Mossy Biscuits”
or, Spring Green Buttermilk Biscuits, adapted from James Beard’s Buttermilk Biscuits in American Cookery
Yield: 9 biscuits
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
5-6 cranks of freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup cold butter (I used unsalted), cut into small pieces
2 green onions, chopped
a cupped handful (as in, the amount your two hands will hold) of spinach leaves, washed, dried and chopped
a handful of cilantro or parsley leaves, washed dried and chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, plus a bit to sprinkle on top
3/4 cup buttermilk (I use about 1 TBSP lemon juice or white vinegar and combine with whole milk to make 3/4 cup)
Preheat the over to 450F.
Make your buttermilk first and allow it to rest while you work. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingertips until well combined. Add all the vegetables/herbs and cheese and toss to coat in the flour mixture. Add the buttermilk and mix until the dough comes together. Knead lightly in the bowl to combine all the flour, but do not overwork the dough. Add more flour only if the dough is very sticky and unworkable. A key to fluffy biscuits is lightly-worked dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter top and pat into a circle about 1/2″ thick. Cut your biscuits. Repeat with dough scraps.
I like baking on a stone, with parchment paper. You may use a buttered baking sheet or pan. Whatever your preferred method of baking, arrange your biscuits so that they are quite close–almost touching–and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes (or a little longer if you are working with a cold stone). Note: I find that baking on a metal baking sheet at 450F is too hot; the bottoms of the biscuits get too dark before the biscuits are done. Reduce oven temperature to 400 or 425 after you’ve loaded the biscuits, if baking on metal.
Excellent with soup or salad.