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.
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 biscuits4 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 vinegarPreheat 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.
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.
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...