For reasons that I can’t quite explain, when I’m unhappy or depressed or feeling glum, I make biscuits. I don’t come from a biscuit culture, growing up Polish in Arizona. As a kid, biscuits came from a tube and toast was the only choice for your breakfast. My other comfort foods are pierogies and Mexican food, which make sense, but also matzo ball soup which is curious I suppose. Over the years I’ve sort of appropriated the foods that are delicious and comforting, like a warm hug, regardless of their origins. Making biscuits is a task that I enjoy; forming the dough, rolling and folding much like a traditional French pastry, and baking them to a nice and golden crunch. While they’re still warm from the oven, I’ll sit down with a biscuit or two and peel off the layers, one by one, popping them into my mouth. I may do this a few times before I feel better.
The calming magical powers of a biscuit have saved me more than once. When I received word while on vacation in France that my aunt had passed away and I couldn’t get home in time for the funeral, I made biscuits. When I was going through a horrible divorce, I made biscuits. Many, many biscuits. During this time I would often make a batch and give them away without eating a single one. The rolling, cutting and baking was therapy unto itself, keeping me distracted and focused at the same time. The day after the election, with a tremendous knot in my stomach, I made biscuits. This past weekend, reading article after article about our refugee crisis, I made biscuits. Sometimes it only takes one to make me feel better. This past weekend, it took three. I probably could have gone on.
My refrigerator was overrun with cheese from a past project – parmesan and pecorino in particular. The night before I had made a quick pasta dish for dinner, cacio e pepe, simply pasta, pecorino, parmesan and black pepper. The next morning I took my standard buttermilk biscuit recipe (actually it’s Michael Rulman’s recipe from “Ratio“) and gave it the cacio e pepe treatment – a full cup of pecorino and parmesan and a really good dose of freshly ground black pepper.
I then rolled the dough and gave it a few folds, much like making puff pastry, before cutting it – in squares. I like economical squares that minimize scraps. Round biscuits create a lot of scraps and when working with a layered dough, they do not reroll well. At all. So I neatly trim off the sides and form these little scraps into one craggy biscuit. A snack, if you will. Then I cut the remaining rectangle of dough into eight even squares. Each was brushed with a little buttermilk and more cheese and pepper. Baked until golden brown, they emerged from the oven tall, flaky and golden brown, capped with a cheesy crust. As an added bonus, my apartment and the common hallway smelled tremendous. Amazing really. I recommend eating them layer by layer, saving the cheesy top for last. You’ll feel better. I promise. Take as many as you need.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: HUGE. Everything about this recipe is therapeutic. The blending of the butter between your fingers, the satisfying squish of fat into flour. The peace that comes from precise rolling, pressing and nudging the dough into neat rectangles over and over. The smile that comes from seeing those nifty little layers, revealed with the clean cut of a sharp knife. The satisfaction of a hot pan of perfectly browned biscuits, puffed and stretching toward the ceiling. And the pure joy of breaking into a hot biscuit, seeing that little puff of steam escape as you take a bite and hope for a better world. Tube biscuits just don’t quite deliver in the same way.
Eight years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Seven years ago: Double Chocolate Cookies
Six years ago: Roasted Sweet Potato & Wheat Berry Salad
Five years ago: Passionfruit Curd
Four years ago: Cassoulet Sunday
Three years ago: Chinese Sticky Ribs
Two years ago: Rumaki (chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon)
Last year: Homemade Chili Powder
CACIO E PEPE BISCUITS
Makes 8 biscuits
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold cut in ½” pieces
½ cup grated pecorino romano
½ cup grated parmesan
¾ cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons buttermilk
2 Tablespoons pecorino romano/parmesan
ground black pepper
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, pepper and salt.
- Add the butter, toss to coat and rub between your fingers until the butter breaks down to about the size of peas.
- Stir in the cheese then gently stir in the buttermilk to make a loose dough.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and very gently knead to incorporate all the loose bits
- Pat and/or gently roll into a ½” thick rectangle, making sure to square up the corners nice and neat.
- Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter, lightly flour the top and gently roll into an 9” x 5” rectangle.
- Do this once more, fold in thirds, lightly flour the top and gently roll into a 9″ x 5″ rectangle.
- Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Remove the plastic and on a lightly floured surface, fold the dough in thirds and roll to a 9″ x 5″rectangle.
- Fold in thirds again and roll to a 9″ x 5″ x ¾” thick rectangle.
- With a sharp chef’s knife cutting straight down, trim off the edges of the rectangle about 8″ x 4″; this will insure that these sides will rise nice and straight. Gently press the trim/scraps together to make a “cook’s snack” biscuit.
- Cut the remaining rectangle of dough into 8 square 2”x 2” biscuits.
- Place the biscuits 1” apart on the prepared baking sheet.
- Lightly brush the biscuit tops with the buttermilk then sprinkle the remaining 2 Tablespoons of cheese equally over the biscuits along with a good pinch of ground pepper.
- Bake until puffed and golden brown on top, 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Check about 2/3 through baking; if browning too much, cover with a sheet of foil.
- Cool for 5 minutes before serving. Biscuits really are best served warm. These reheat in a 350°F oven pretty well but are best consumed with a day or so.