Saturday, May 10, 2003

HOT 'N' SPICY CHEDDAR and ONION BISCUITS

"Biscuit" is one of those words that can mean very different things, depending on what part of the world you're from. In this country, when you think of a biscuit you envision a light, fluffy, baking powder roll, served hot from the oven with butter and/or honey, or sandwiched around a slice of ham. In England, a biscuit is a cracker or cookie, plain and simple. In France, biscuit is a dry sponge cake, made to be moistened with syrup and rolled up with a filling. How did this one word, biscuit (from the Latin for "twice cooked") come to have three such different meanings? That's why we find etymology, the history of words, such a fascinating subject.

The biscuits in this recipe are typically American—made with white flour, baking powder and buttermilk—but are dressed up with the addition of cheese, onions and hot pepper sauce. We served them at a pre-Christmas potluck lunch here at King Arthur Flour, and noticed they were the first to disappear—always a sign of success when we're testing recipes. You can whip these up in less than an hour (even less if you skip the chilling step), and they're a swell accompaniment to any mildly flavored soup or stew, where their taste won't be overwhelmed.

3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (1 1/4 ounces) golden baking onions or canned french-fried onions
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 to 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce*
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) buttermilk

*1 teaspoon is barely evident; 2 is more assertive. Up the ante however you like.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, cheese and onions. Cut in the butter as if you were making pie crust, using a pastry blender, pastry fork, your fingers or a mixer. Toss until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the Tabasco sauce and the buttermilk, and stir gently till the dough becomes cohesive.

Gently squeeze the dough together, and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a 3/4-inch thick, 9-inch square. Using a sharp knife, bench knife or rolling pizza wheel, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to a lightly greased baking sheet.

If you've got time and some space in your refrigerator or freezer, chill or freeze them for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 450°F. While this step isn't strictly necessary, it does allow the biscuits to rise higher, as the fat will have had a chance to chill, and will thus melt more slowly as the biscuit bakes, allowing the dough time to "set up."

Bake the biscuits for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they're golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm. Yield: 26 biscuits, 1 1/2 inches square.

Nutrition information per serving (1 biscuit, 44g): 132 cal, 7g fat, 4g protein, 14g complex carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 19mg cholesterol, 236mg sodium, 73mg potassium, 60RE vitamin A, 1mg vitamin C, 1mg iron, 144mg calcium, 98mg phosphorus.

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