Out in the food blogging community there is something called the Daring Bakers Challenge. Every single month a prominent food blogger proposes some sort of food item that everyone has to make. Generally it involves some sort of interesting technique or is considered a complicated item...hence the "challenge". Most times there are some sort of rules as well, such as how and what type of variations can be made. Each challenge lasts for the duration of the month and then starts all over again in the next month with a new featured food item.
I have never actually participated in the Daring Bakers Challenge nor do I know how the hosts get chosen, let alone if there are any winners. However when I browse tastespotting.com I can always tell when a new challenge has started because all of a sudden there will be many recipes all featuring the same type of food, just with different styles and variations.
As it happens, when I was looking for a good recipe for scones and biscuits to make for my family high tea I found out that it was the theme of the Daring Bakers Challenge exactly a year ago in January 2012. I decided to use the recipe provided by the host of the challenge and in the process I learned the difference between scones and biscuits. It turns out that what we call "scones" in North America are actually called "rock cakes" in England and Australia, and that which we call "biscuits" here are called "scones" over there. It's all trivial information but interesting when talking to someone from a different part of the world and finding out about these slight nuances.
For the high tea I wanted to stick with traditional flavors so I decided to make the biscuits using Gruyere cheese and chopped chives. According to the host he bookmarked over 288 recipes and tried 16 different batches before coming up with the best technique and recipe. In the end he had very simple instructions with plenty of pictures, which I appreciated. Since the techniques were not that hard or time consuming I decided not to skip any steps and follow all of his specific instructions.
It was nice to see the rationale explained behind each specific technique, such as triple sifting the dry ingredients in order to allow plenty of air to become incorporated into the mixture as well as evenly distributing the rising agents. Supposedly this gives the scones maximal lightness, though I can't honestly say whether my scones achieved this. They were extremely light and fluffy and very layered, thanks to the kneading technique also outlined in the recipe, but since I only made one batch I didn't have anything else to compare them to in order. I'll just have to trust that triple sifting the ingredients led to a better biscuit than if I had simply mixed the ingredients together.
In terms of taste the biscuits turned out deliciously and were especially enjoyed by my mother and brother. I was especially pleased that my mom liked the biscuits because she often complains that biscuits sold in stores are too hard, though I think her complaints are aimed more toward scones rather than biscuits. She said she loved the flaky layers and softness of the biscuits. Personally I enjoyed the subtly of the Gruyere cheese but my brother asked that next time I use a stronger cheese, such as cheddar, for a more intense and cheesier flavor. The great thing about the recipe is that it provides a base and can then be modified to individual preference.
Cheese and Chive Biscuits
Note: This recipe makes about 16 palm-sized biscuits.
- 2 cups flour
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground mustard seeds (dry mustard powder)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup freshly grated cheese (any variety)
- 4 tbsp chives, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup cold milk
- Triple sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, dried mustard, and salt together into a large bowl.
- Add the grated cheese and chopped chives and mix in with the dry ingredients.
- Rub the butter pieces into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles large, beach-sized sands pieces and the butter is well coated with the flour.
- Add the milk to the mixture and mix until it just starts to form a wet and sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently shape it into a ball.
- To achieve a layered effect, gently knead and press down on the dough to form a large rectangle. Fold it into thirds on itself then turn 90° and repeat the process 3-4 times.
- On the last turn pat the dough down so that it is ¾"-1" thick. Use a well-floured 2"-3" biscuit cutter (depending on how big you want them) to cut out the biscuits. Sprinkle with a little bit of cracked pepper and place on a parchment or wax paper lined baking tray 2" apart.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes at 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the biscuits out of the oven as soon as the tops turn golden and immediately remove from the tray and place on a plate or cooling rack to prevent the bottoms from burning.