Sunday, March 21, 2010

Here, There, and Everywhere

Have you ever noticed that when you become aware of a thing, you suddenly see it everywhere? This happens to me a lot with magazine text. I’ll be minding my own business, and all of a sudden it will occur to me that I’ve seen a particular word or phrase recently, and here it is again, and suddenly here it is everywhere.

The two that spring immediately to mind because they are current are “go-to” and “spot on.” Suddenly every food magazine I get is offering me a “go-to” recipe for this or that, and they’re all “spot on” in terms of flavor and deliciousness.

This happens to me primarily with magazines because I am what could be not so nicely called a magazine whore. I have even been known to stoop to the Family Circle/Ladies Home Journal variety of magazine when all other sources fail me. And I have a good friend who is similarly whorish, and she and I take great pleasure in pointing out these repeated words and phrases to one another (via email, which is our primary…well, actually our only means of communication, since I now live 3,000 miles away from her). We even have a shorthand abbreviation for when one of us points out something to the other. The other person responds “TNIWBE,” which stands for “Thanks Now It Will Be Everywhere.” And sure enough, it’s inevitable.

I remember it started with “bling.” I’d never heard the term before, but she remarked that it was ALL OVER and boy was it getting tiresome. I shrugged, but before my shoulders could drop back to their original position, I’d seen it four times (OK, I exaggerate, but almost). Since then we’ve pointed out such gems to one another as “spuds” (food magazines often substitute this word for potato in articles), “tresses” (you know, hair) and “kicks” (sneakers—my friend reads more health and exercise magazines than I do; I pretty much confine myself to food magazines, so I see the non-food ones from time to time, but the food ones are under my nose all the time).

Now it’s starting to happen to me with recipes. I’ll see a recipe and think, “Oooo, that sounds good” and I’ll make it, and the next thing I know, every magazine I read has a recipe for that same thing. Or an article about food trends in the New York Times mentions it. Or I read some of my favorite bloggers, and they’re making the same thing. In fact, this happened with the recipe I have for you today. I saw it in one place, thought it looked interesting, and since I made it myself I’ve now seen it at least three other times, most recently in (surprise) an article in the New York Times.

These are called Cat Head Biscuits. And they’re from that persnickety source that the chicken pie came from, so I will Not Mention Their Name, but as usual, I had to mess with their recipe. I also saw them in a cookbook I was perusing, and in an article about a Southern cook in the New York Times Magazine. They call them Cat Head because they’re as big as a cat’s head (in theory—I have cats and they’re really more the size of a kitten’s head, but we can overlook this).

Anyhoo, the thing I like about them is that they’re a biscuit, but you don’t roll them out and cut them. You blop the dough into a cake tin or cast iron skillet and bake. I love biscuits, but I get tired of digging out my pastry board, flouring it, rolling them out, and cutting them. Plus you waste dough that way, because you can really only reroll the scraps once before you start to develop the gluten when you’re kneading it into a cohesive mass, and they start to get tough. These call for no rolling, hallelujah! Even if you think you’re one of those people who just can’t make biscuits, you can make these (I am one of those people who just can’t hard cook an egg, but that’s a story for another time).

There’s also no fretting about keeping the butter super cold. In fact, it’s supposed to be slightly soft. However, I’ve also made them with butter that was effectively right out of the fridge, and they were fine. That’s another nice thing about this recipe—it’s flexible and forgiving.

Alex and I disagreed on the amount of sugar needed in these. The recipe I saw called for none, but I really thought they needed some. The amount I added was too much for Alex, who declared them sweet enough to be a shortcake base. I said they’d need quite a bit more sugar to be suitable for that. So I’m offering you a range of sugar amount, in case you don’t like your biscuits on the sweet side and/or you want to use them for strawberry shortcake.

So here are easy, tasty biscuits that could double as dessert component. You can use them as your go-to recipe, and they are spot on.

Cat Head Biscuits
Makes 6 biscuits

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt (I use kosher salt; if you’re using table salt, err on the side of 1 teaspoon)
1-3 Tablespoons granulated sugar (I’d add up to a quarter cup if you want to use them for shortcake, but taste before you take that leap)
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter cut into ½” cubes, slightly softened (or not)
4 Tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, cut into ½” cubes
1 – 1 ¼ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan or cast iron skillet with cooking spray (the cast iron skillet would make a nice presentation if you were serving them directly from the pan). In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk and stir to combine. Begin with 1 cup, adding remaining quarter cup if the mixture is too dry. The consistency will be very pasty and thick, which is what you want. It will actually hold a mounded shape when you plunk it into the pan. If you use too much buttermilk, you’ll get more of a batter than a dough, and they won’t work the way they’re intended to.

Using a half cup measure, or an ice cream scoop, or just a large spoon, create five distinct mounds around the perimeter of the pan. Place one mound in the center.

Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack. While the biscuits are cooling in the pan, use a knife to score between them (this will make them easier to remove from the pan once they’re cool). Serve warm.

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