F or this month at “ This Book Makes Me Cook ”, the chosen book was Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This book is about a little orphan girl caked Anne (which she insists is spelt with an “e” as it is much more elegant) who arrives at the house of Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert in place of the boy they wanted to adopt. The Cuthberts, despite the confusion, decide to give her home. The rest of this delightful book is about how Anne finds “scope for imagination” in everything in life making it brighter for herself and everyone around her.
In Chapter 16, the Cuthberts invite the new minister and his wife to tea and naturally food features, as can be seen in the excerpt below.
Monday and Tuesday great preparations went on at Green Gables. Having the minister and his wife to tea was a serious and important undertaking, and Marilla was determined not to be eclipsed by any of the Avonlea housekeepers. Anne was wild with excitement and delight. She talked it all over with Diana Tuesday night in the twilight, as they sat on the big red stones by the Dryad's Bubble and made rainbows in the water with little twigs dipped in fir balsam.
"Everything is ready, Diana, except my cake which I'm to make in the morning, and the baking-powder biscuits which Marilla will make just before teatime. I assure you, Diana, that Marilla and I have had a busy two days of it. It's such a responsibility having a minister's family to tea. I never went through such an experience before. You should just see our pantry. It's a sight to behold. We're going to have jellied chicken and cold tongue. We're to have two kinds of jelly, red and yellow, and whipped cream and lemon pie, and cherry pie, and three kinds of cookies, and fruit cake, and Marilla's famous yellow plum preserves that she keeps especially for ministers, and pound cake and layer cake, and biscuits as aforesaid; and new bread and old both, in case the minister is dyspeptic and can't eat new. Mrs. Lynde says ministers are dyspeptic, but I don't think Mr. Allan has been a minister long enough for it to have had a bad effect on him. I just grow cold when I think of my layer cake. Oh, Diana, what if it shouldn't be good! I dreamed last night that I was chased all around by a fearful goblin with a big layer cake for a head."
Having baked mostly sweet stuff this month, I picked something savoury for a change with baking-powder biscuits.
In India, a biscuit is what is called a cookie in America. When I was growing up, cookies were something that usually figured in my story books which American children had with milk! Much has changed since then and for the urban younger generation here, it’s all about cookies these days. Of course, we still have biscuits on our store shelves.
It was only much later that I came to know that biscuits were eaten in America, as a side dish to mop up gravy or at breakfast with butter and jam. These biscuits, more like scones, are small quick breads made with baking powder or baking soda instead of yeast.
Most recipes use butter (or lard, traditionally), but I decided to try making these biscuits with oil instead. I made half my biscuits plain and flavoured the other half with cheese, herbs and crushed black pepper. This recipe makes very light and flaky biscuits that are crisp on the outside. These biscuits are best eaten the same day.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)
1 ½ tsp mixed dried herbs (optional)
1 ½ tsp crushed black pepper
1/3 cup oil (I used sunflower + rice bran blend)
1 cup milk, chilled
Keep the oil in the freezer for about 2 hours till it becomes very thick and viscous. In a bowl, put the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and dried herbs, if using. Mix everything till blended.
Add the chilled oil and mix, very lightly with fingers, till the flour resembles largish bread crumbs. Add the milk and grated cheese (if using) and again, mix very lightly with fingers or a fork. Gather the dough into a ball with both hands. Do not knead the dough. If the dough doesn’t feel very cold, refrigerate it for about 15 minutes before proceeding further.
Using lightly floured hands, lightly press out the dough into a disc and roll out to ¾“ thickness. Cut into rounds or any shape using cookie cutters or into squares with a knife.
Place on a baking tray and bake at 220C for 15 to 20 minutes till the tops are golden brown. Take them out and brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter. This recipe makes twelve 3” round biscuits or 24 small cookie sized ones). Serve warm with jam for breakfast or tea.
It is important to ensure that the milk and oil are chilled properly as you would do for making pie crusts.
It is equally important to handle the dough as little as possible as the warmth will cause the oil (or butter if you use it) to melt and affect the texture of the biscuit.
While rolling out the dough, do not be tempted to use more flour than the absolute minimum necessary. Adding more flour will make the biscuits heavy/ dense in texture.
It is important to use a cutter with very sharp edges, or the sides of the biscuits will get pressed down and will not rise on baking.
Place the cut out biscuits quite close together to ensure that they do not spread outwards much, but rise upwards if you want taller biscuits. Also ensure that your baking powder is active.
Usually the biscuits are brushed with an egg wash before baking, as this ensures a beautifully browned and shiny top. You may brush them with milk instead. I didn’t do either here.