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Published: Tuesday, 7/14/2009

Biscuits: Use versatile quick bread for breakfast, appetizer, or dessert

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Black raspberry jelly and a biscuit with butter. Black raspberry jelly and a biscuit with butter.
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Even though biscuits are among my favorite foods, I rarely order them in a restaurant.

Instead, I make them myself.

For me, a true leisurely breakfast is hot biscuits with pats of real butter, seedless black raspberry jelly, and maybe orange marmalade or apricot preserves. You have to eat them immediately from the oven so the butter melts into the little nooks and crannies of the biscuit.

(The colder biscuits are, the drier they become.)

I still use my mother's three biscuit cutters - mini, medium, and large (for shortcake). On occasion, I'll make a heart-shaped biscuit.

I never make a dropped biscuit - although my daughter in Texas has adapted this convenience. I think rolled biscuits taste better, although I can't tell you why because the dough is identical. I try to get a specific thickness to my unbaked biscuits when I cut them out, so they bake perfectly in a 450 degree oven at the 9-minute mark. At this length of baking time - depending on your oven, the biscuits should be golden brown, not dark, or they have a nutty dry flavor.

Having told you all these secrets, I'll tell you one more: I use Bisquick baking mix most of the time. Using the box recipe - 2 1/4 cups of Bisquick and 2/3 cup of milk, mix and knead 10 times on a flour-covered board; roll to 1/2-inch thickness and cut into biscuits, then bake for 9 minutes in a 450-degree oven.

Biscuits are part of the flavor of Americana, but the quick bread is often neglected in cookbooks. Southern cookbooks almost always have biscuit recipes, but trendy gourmet tomes, if they address quick breads, are likely to give greater importance to Irish soda bread, scones, or muffins.

Maybe it's because biscuits are so easily purchased in refrigerated cans, frozen, or sold at the humblest restaurants and fast food venues.

Biscuits for breakfast are quite similar to scones, the Scottish quick bread, which is eaten for breakfast or tea.

In America, biscuits have leaveners such as baking powder or baking soda, but the texture should be tender or light, according to the Food Lover's Companion. The word biscuit comes from the French "bis cuit," meaning twice cooked, which is what the original sea biscuits aboard a ship had to be in order to be crisp. In England, they are a hard, thin, cookie-like confection.

If you make biscuits from scratch, as Angela Benko did when she tested the recipe Biscuits and Sausage and Gravy from the Good Home Cookbook by Richard J. Perry, the shortening should be blended into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter so the mixture is crumbly, almost like making a pie dough. She said the biscuits made from scratch with baking powder were great and served with homemade sausage gravy, even better.

Cheddar or cheese-topped biscuits have become a favorite in recent years. Several fast-food chains such as Red Lobster and other restaurants have popularized these.

Cheese replaces some of the butter in some cheese biscuit recipes. They make a delicious accompaniment to soup or salad, writes Mr. Perry.

Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $29.95) has a burst of heat and flavor, thanks to the chipotle. We adapted the recipe to make Cheddar Biscuits simply by eliminating the one tablespoon of chipotle powder. The authors recommend one teaspoon for those who want just a bit of heat.

In Louisville and throughout Kentucky beaten biscuits are often served with small slices of country ham as appetizers, especially for the Kentucky Derby.

Historically the ham biscuit was probably the South's first sandwich according to a spokesman for Martha White flour. They were a convenient lunch pail take-along for field workers and school children and a frequent light supper. Genteel hostesses elevated them to the status of sophisticated appetizer.

I have a mini-biscuit cutter that makes a perfect bite-size appetizer - one to two bites. Appetizer biscuits can be made with herbs such as rosemary or sage.

The folks at Martha White Kitchen suggest that country ham biscuits come in two styles. One is a flaky, thin, crisp biscuit that splits easily, but doesn't crumble as you bite into the chewy cured ham.

The second popular biscuit is that some call bride's or angel biscuits which have a softer crumb and crust. The self-rising flour is combined with a little yeast for flavoring and to lighten the dough.

Buttermilk Angel Biscuits is a recipe that can be found in Virginia Willis' cookbook Bon Appetit, Y'all, (10 Speed Press, $32.50). Angel biscuits are lighter than traditional buttermilk biscuits. They contain yeast as well as baking power, baking soda, or both.

A dessert biscuit can be likened to a shortcake - the sweet, rich North American type-cake or quick bread split in half and filled with fruit and whipped cream.

For strawberry shortcake or peach shortcake, blueberry or blackberry shortcake, I make a jumbo-size biscuit using the 4 to 5-inch biscuit cutter.

For a raspberry-mango sauce used sor shortcake, use 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, 1 1/2 cups peeled fresh mangoes or 1 jar (16-ounce) mangoes or peaches, drained and chopped plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.

Biscuits are good any time of the day or night, breakfast, lunch or dinner and don't forget serving them for mid-afternoon Tea.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at:

food@theblade.com

or 419-724-6155.



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