The basics: Compliments of biscuits.

Throughout my days of watching the food network, reading a variety of food blogs, and skimming cookbooks, I have learned that a lot of people feel most inspired when they ‘get back to their roots and follow the traditions of their culture”. This makes very good sense to me- not only is it educational, you also have a very emotional attachment to your heritage no matter how much or how little exposure you have to it. While this seems like a very practical theory to apply, I’ve hit a relatively unsurpassable obstacle. The thing is, I am part Irish, Scottish, English, and Chinese, with no set religion. This would make my cuisine the bumbleberry of the food world, the sort of mish-mash dishes that people call ‘unfocused’. What should I pick this day of the week, is my palate particularly Chinese, or do I have a hankering for fish and chips? Some people just pick their most obvious cultural background, the one they were most exposed to, and run with it. However, most people get stuck in the melting pot section of the multicultural library. As far as identifying myself as a Canadian and going that food route, everyone has a lot of trouble saying what that means. Does that mean I should pick up some bacon on my way home and pull the prawns out of the freezer? What about the recalls of us, the microwave generation, do those count? DQ ice cream cakes and chicken fingers instead of garden’s and flour covered hands. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right to me.

So I’ve thought long and hard, and here’s what I’ve decided: it doesn’t really matter. I can cook, believe, and celebrate any way I want. Maybe I’ll pick up some discount Christmas decorations after blowing out my Menorah, right before I start collecting supplies for Chinese New Year. I’m born on the Day of the Dead, so why not turn that into the best two-day celebration on this side of the coast. Who says you can’t serve your fish with a tempera batter, topped with some hodge podge. While I enjoy figuring out my favourite parts of my heritage (and everyone’s around me because hey, I’m no more attached to mine at this point then I am to theirs), I am going to eat biscuits. These are the simplest, most basic form of baking, with a different version available in every language that we know. So enjoy! Wherever your relatives called home, I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down a little piece of the present.

Basic Baking Powder Biscuits

The all-time-never-fail-no-surprises classic. See below for my family favourite variation from who knows where in the world.

4 c flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 c butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 c milk

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cubed butter, and stir to coat. Next, cut the butter in using a pastry blender or two knives, until the butter resembles crumbs the size of split peas (approx ¼ of your pinky fingernail size).
2) Make a well in the flour-butter mixture. Pour in milk ¼ c at a time, stopping when the dough is just moistened and holding together (I usually end up using only 1 ¾ c milk). Save any extra milk for later.
3) Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead lightly, until dough stays together well. Using a rolling pin or old wine bottle, roll out until its approx 2 cm thick.
4) Using a round cookie cutter, cut as many round out as you can. Reroll the scraps, and repeat until you have used all the dough. Brush the tops of the biscuits with any remaining milk.
5) Put on an ungreased pan (I recommend parchment paper if your pans tend towards the sticky side of ‘non-stick’) and bake for 20-25 minutes, checking for a nice golden top, and a bottom that slides easily when nudged.

Cheese Fan-Tans

This, I like to say, is the ‘better biscuit’. It is cheesy with a few spices thrown in, which is always a welcome combination. Experiment by changing to your favourite combination of spices, or use my blend. This biscuit has been with me through regattas, camping, Mondays, and term papers. It is great any and every time of the day.

1 recipe baking powder biscuits
1 tsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp garlic, granulated
2 tsp basil
paprika for dusting
softened butter for spreading
2 c cheese, grated

1) Prepare biscuits as you normally would in steps 1-3, adding the spices into the flour mixture in the first step.
2) Take your 2 cm thick dough, and shape it into a rectangle. Slice this square into 4 roughly equal slices, lengthwise. Spread each slice with a thin layer of softened butter.
3) Pick the largest slice for the bottom, and spread it with a layer of cheese (thick or thin, whatever floats your boat). Stack another slice of dough on top, and layer that with cheese. Repeat with the next slice of dough, and top with the last slice.
4) Vertically cut the dough into approx 2 cm slices. In a well-greased muffin tin, squish the slices in by pushing the middle away from yourself and pulling the ends together, creating a half-moon type shape. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect, the idea is cheesy-layered biscuits with a rustic shape. Sprinkle the biscuits with any extra cheese and the paprika (which will roast nicely in the oven).
5) Bake for 15-20 minutes, checking for a golden top with bubbling cheese. Serve!

** Note: fill any empty muffin hole with water to prevent warping of the tin. This will also help keep its neighbors moist!


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