Monday, July 2, 2012

Anne's Cheesy Popper Biscuits

Ready to be baked!

When I first wrote this post, I didn't realize that these biscuits would be the last time I'd ever bake anything for my friend Anne. After months of fighting cancer, she was becoming too weak to bake but had a craving for these little cheese filled bites and asked me to bring her some. We had shared these biscuits often at her house over the past few years when I'd visit for tea every Friday. Sitting in her kitchen overlooking the garden, we'd sip tea and nibble treats as we watched the birds rummaging through the feeders. Anne always had the best cookbooks, and one of her favourites was Kim Boyce's "Good to the Grain."

During the visit where I brought Anne these biscuits, we sat for one last time in her apartment in the city closer to cancer treatment, nibbling biscuits and looking out over the city. She insisted that I take her beloved Kitchen Aid stand mixer home with me, and once I traveled all the way home, sent me a tweet.

"The red mixer, home at last! Fantastic biscuits."

Anne died a month later.

These biscuits were her favourite, and I'm sure she'd want me to tell you how wonderful they are.  Full of sharp cheeses, buttermilk, and even creme fraiche, they are both tangy and cheesy, yet have more substance than usual biscuits because of the whole grains used.  Cut them with a 2 1/2 inch cutter if you want to make sandwiches out of them, but Anne always liked to make them tiny with a 1 inch cutter, like cocktail biscuits.  They are especially good with tea or to dunk in soups and stews to soak up extra juices.  Use the best cheddar you can find, I noticed it really makes a difference, and definitely freshly grated Parmesan cheese, not the sawdust-like stuff from a can.  These biscuits are best fresh from the oven but freeze and re-heat beautifully.  Try some for breakfast straight from the toaster oven, slathered in butter.

Adapted from Good to the Grain and Anne

1 cup Kamut flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (or spelt, even)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt  (skip if you use 1/2 cup salted butter)
½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne or smoky hot paprika

½ cup unsalted butter, frozen
2 cups grated sharp white cheddar
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup crème fraiche (or use 1/2 and 1/2 whipping cream/buttermilk)

2 tbsp buttermilk
Fresh cracked black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350 F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the kamut flour, whole wheat flour, all purpose flours, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne together.   Grate the butter using the large holes on a box grater onto a plate, then dump the grated butter into the dry mixture, along with the cheeses.   Stir to combine.

Stir the butter milk and crème fraiche together in a medium sized bowl, and then pour into the flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a raggy dough forms.  You may need to add a small amount of buttermilk if the dough appears to be too dry, but resist the temptation to add too much! 

Turn the dough out onto a counter and bring together with your hands, kneading it very slightly just to make the dough come together.  Pat the dough out with your hands to about 1 inch thick.   Cut the biscuits out with a biscuit cutter-2 ½ inch works well if you want to use the biscuits to make breakfast sandwiches, 1 inch if you want to make cocktail sized biscuits. 

Place the biscuits about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet, then brush the tops with buttermilk and top with a bit of pepper.  Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the bottoms are golden.  Be sure to rotate the pan half way through so that they cook evenly.  Remove to a wire rack and let cool.  These really are best served warm right out of the oven, but freeze and re-heat quite nicely.  You can also keep them in an airtight container on the counter for 2 days.

Makes about  16 two inch biscuits, or about 4 dozen 1 inch biscuits
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