Cheddar onion biscuits for winter’s home stretch
When the cold weather in well entrenched and I can’t get my weekly farmers market fix, I turn to my oven for consolation. Baking a batch of biscuits makes me feel connected to my food, even when the ingredients come from my local grocery store instead of my favorite growers. But this batch is special, because I used aged sharp cheddar from Sargento, sent to me for Christmas by my friend Barbara.
Classic biscuits use pantry staples - flour, baking powder, salt and butter or shortening - and thus are perfect for spur-of-the-moment inspiration. I use butter AND shortening to get the buttery taste as well as the height that vegetable shortening delivers. For the liquid, I like to use buttermilk because it lends a tender crumb, but yogurt, milk or cream will also work for a slightly different but always delicious result.
If you’re newer to baking, keep a few tips in mind:
Use a light touch. The less you handle the dough the better texture you’ll achieve. That’s one of the reasons to pat it into the height you want before refrigerating, because you won’t need to manipulate it too much right before baking.
Use fresh baking powder. When you open a can, mark the date on the bottom, and discard it one year later.
Don’t skip the salt. It’s an important flavor balancer. Even sweeter biscuits benefit from a touch of salt.
If you use shortening, store it in the fridge to make sure it’s cool when you want it. Shortening is formulated especially for baking and is shelf stable, but keeping it cool will give your biscuits the rise you’re looking for. Same goes for lard.
Chill the dough thoroughly and be sure the oven is completely pre-heated. It’s temping to skip both these steps, but the layers of butter and shortening melting in the oven is what gives you the fluffy, flaky biscuits you’re looking for. If the oven’s not hot enough, or the dough not cool enough, you’ll get gummy flat disks.
A basket of steaming biscuits is one of the easiest ways to bring home-baked deliciousness to your table, no matter which direction your creativity takes you. Enjoy.
Cheddar and Onion Biscuits
Makes eight to ten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into ½-inch chunks
3 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about ¾ cup)
¼ cup minced onion, sauted until golden in one teaspoon oil, then cooled to room temperature
¾ cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten for glaze
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Work in butter and shortening, using your fingers or a pastry blender, until dough resembles coarse meal with the largest pieces the size of peas. Stir in cheese and onion, then add buttermilk and stir just until dough comes together. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead three or four times. Pat into a flat disk about 3/4 inch high, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest for ten minutes. Cut into two-inch circles or squares and brush with beaten egg. Bake until golden, about 25 - 30 minutes.