04 December 2009

Cornmeal biscuits

This is crazy, to be making biscuits when we get a baguette, or whatever we want from the boulangerie, delivered to the house five days a week. But it's exciting and satisfying to make the biscuits, when they come out so good. I don't know of any bread you can get in France that even slightly resembles them.

This morning I made another batch, for several reasons. First, I was hungry and the bread lady wasn't due for another hour or more. Second, I was very tempted to go to the supermarket and buy some things that are on sale, especially the cheeses — I needed to find something else to occupy my mind and hands, because we already have plenty of food in the house. Third, I wanted to see if I could make light, fluffy biscuits again, to make sure the first try wasn't a fluke. And fourth, I wanted to try to make them with fine-ground corn meal instead of wheat flour.

Cornmeal biscuits ready to go into the oven

Well, it worked out really well. But I realized when I tasted the cornmeal biscuits that I had just made another kind of cornbread, when the classic cornbread is so good and easy to make. So next time I'll go back to making the classic Southern-style biscuits, with wheat flour.

Here's the recipe I came up with. Remember, I'm using French ingredients — except the cornmeal, which comes from Italy and is sold as farine de maïs pour polenta:

Cornmeal biscuits

4 oz. finely ground cornmeal (¾ cup)
1 oz. all-purpose wheat flour (¼ cup)
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
½ tsp. table salt
1½ oz. butter (2½ Tbsp.)
1 fl. oz. crème fraîche
3 fl. oz. skim milk
3 drops of distilled vinegar

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF. I use a convection oven. This recipe makes about 6 small biscuits.

Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, soda, and salt together in a big bowl. Sift them if you think you need to to break up any lumps or clumps.

Using your fingertips or a fork, cut cold butter into the dry ingredients until you have something that looks a little like breadcrumbs. The important thing is not to let the butter melt. It needs to stay in tiny pieces — so work fast, especially if you use your fingers to do the mixing.

In a measuring cup, mix the cream and skim milk (or 4 fl. oz. whole milk, if you have it) with a few drops of vinegar.

When the oven is hot, pour the cold milk into the flour mixture and stir it quickly to blend it in. As soon as the dough comes together, stop stirring it. You want work it as little as possible to keep it light. Let it stand for a couple of minutes, and then scrape it out of the bowl onto a floured work surface.

Sprinkle some flour or cornmeal on the top of the dough ball and pat the dough down into a round about an inch thick. It should already feel light and fluffy — the leavening agents are at work.

Cut out biscuits with a biscuit cutter or a glass, or just cut them out with a knife — it doesn't particularly matter what shape they are. Place the biscuits on a non-stick pan so that they are touching each other.

Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are light and golden. Let them cool for a few minutes before you take them off the pan. They will break apart easily.
Here they are fresh out of the oven.

Thanks to Tom of Sidney, Ill., for the original recipe and instructions (and look at his current post, Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread — we need to make that too). Tom made Southern baking-powder biscuits for us when we visited him and Harriett back in 2006 (three years ago already!) and I've been thinking about them ever since. Now I feel like I can make my own.

Cornmeal biscuits

When I was growing up, my mother made biscuits on a lot of chilly winter mornings. Some of the best ones were cheese biscuits, but they were always good (as I remember it). Ma probably thinks it's funny that I'm just learning how to make biscuits, at age 60. And cheese biscuits are my next project.

Since the bread lady doesn't come by on Wednesdays or Sundays, I guess those can be my biscuit-baking days. Or we can always make pizzas...


  1. Those biscuits are so appetizing it makes me hungry. It's not time for breakfast yet, rather it's time to go to bed.

    Didn't know it was so late. It's all Martine's fault because I googled Jeanne des Armoises and couldn't quit.

    Word verification is chess. Too late for a game!

  2. Yes, I read some about Jeanne des Armoises too, mostly on Wikipedia.fr. I'd never heard of all that controversy before.

  3. By the way, Martine's blog is Wishing I were in France. My link goes to the first topic about Jeanne des Armoises. See Martine's December 4 post as well, for more on the mystery.

  4. I up early because I can't sleep.
    (It's only 2 am in LA). Those biscuits look really appetizing. I cannot find the smoked herrings. I will have to wait to go back to France to eat them again. The macarons from TJ where delicious, particularly the vanilla ones. Judy, I didn't buy the buche de Noel because on the picture, it looked too dense. I have bought them fresh in bakeries but I have never found one like they make in France. I love to read Martine's blog. She is a good writer and her stories are so informative. I will read her blog next and can't wait to find out about Jeanne des Armoises.

  5. Nadège, I found this on English Wikipedia: "A kipper is a split and smoked herring, a bloater is a whole smoked herring and a buckling is a hot smoked herring with the guts removed." So maybe you need to look for kippers. I didn't sleep much last night either. Maybe it's the aftermath of the full moon.

  6. Thank you Ken! I will inquire more about "harangs fumes". Have you had them in France? (Ce sont des fillets de harengs). The texture is different from a whole smoked herring, trout... They are really, really good. When (if) I find them, I will let you know.

  7. Nadège, if you find those kippers Ken's talking about please let me know. I love them too. Did try to find them in this country but didn't know what to look for.

    Just a piece of advice. Let them soak in milk over night, before you put them into some olive oil. Just like a sponge, they expand and become sweet, moist and delicious. Good luck.

  8. CHM, let's see if this link works. Safeway.com has kippers listed with the sardines. Maybe Stater Bros. or some other supermarket would have them with the sardines, tuna, etc. I'm not sure this is even what you and Nadège are looking for though.

  9. Here's another link.

    Brunswick seems to be a Canadian company owned now by BumbleBee in San Diego. Happy fishing!

  10. Those kippers listed with the sardines are not it. I probably won't be able to find them in the US unless I go to a Swedish specialty store (if that exist); In SF, I might be able to find them in a french store. I have found dry cod to make "brandade de morue" but never "harengs fumes". I will drop a note to David Lebovitz; he might know. Thank you Mr Charles Henri for the tip. I will let you know if I find them.
    (Ken started it all; since yesterday I have been craving french food).

  11. Nadège, here's a site where you can buy harengs fumés but they look expensive to me and the quantity is large. It says you can freeze them and keep them for a while.

  12. Little, personal cornbreads. A great idea! I'm going to give this a try.

    I'll be interested in your cheese biscuits. I usually just add shredded extra sharp cheddar and little grated parmesean to the regular recipe, but I've always wondered if there's more too it than that.

  13. Tom, I think the cornmeal biscuits might be good with a little sugar in them.

  14. Hmmmm, down here sugar doesn't belong in corn bread, but we use it for bbq sauce.

    Lewis waited until he was 65 to start baking biscuits. He's using Alton Brown recipe too. Guess some old dogs can learn new tricks! Lewis used half shortening and half butter and the biscuits were very good.

  15. Evelyn, no shortening here that I know of. Only palm oil, which comes in a waxy block, but I don't want to use that. There are margarines, but I figure I might as well use butter. I'm thinking of making little cheese biscuits and having some of that good Auvergne-style ham in them.


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