Cheddar & Chive Biscuits

To finally find the secret of a soft and layered biscuit… here is a quest that required a little bit of research and several attempts. I went through my collection of cookbooks… and there are a few… and reviewed a number of recipes. Those recipes vary greatly depending of the origin. Some preconise using butter only, whilst others, especially if you check history in the deep South of USA, opt for lard or shortening, something we are not all very familiar with. My mother used to make her pie crust with a combination of butter and Crisco; shortening and her dough was always soft and light in color. In Europe, we tend to see more butter, especially in Spain and France. So in my search for the best biscuits, which to me, resonate with what we used to call the deep South. I found a cookbook from Edna Lewis, considered the expert in Southern cuisine and tried her recipe, using only lard. Very similar to a Soda bread or Quick bread, the elements are pretty much the same; using flour, a rising agent; whether baking soda or baking powder, butter or lard and of course some acidity in the form of buttermilk or milk with a dash of vinegar, which helps activate the rising agent. Well, I have to say, they are a wonderful treat and a perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup or a stew. In this recipe, I have included some cheese and fresh chives a great combination. For some reason, lard sounds really bad for you, but the quantity is rather small in comparison to other ingredients and far less than scones made with butter. It is so quick to prepare and so satisfying when you see the number of layers they create when bake in a very hot oven. Not for everyday, but to accompany a warm soup on a cold rainy day, it is a real pleasure which also brings comfort….

3 Cups Sifted All purpose flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon baking Soda
4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
2/3 Cup lard (134 Gr.)
1 1/2 Cup of Buttermilk
125 Gr. Grated Cheese ; Sharp Cheddar works very well
4 Tablespoons of Chopped Chives
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper or Espelette
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Ground Pepper to garnish the biscuits
1 Egg

Using a large bowl, stir in the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix well.
Add the lard cut in small cubes and rub your fingers through the flour and lard until the entire mixture looks like sand with a few flecks of lard or rough cornmeal.
Add the milk all at once and stir vigorously with a stout wooden spoon. The dough will be soft in the beginning, but will stiffen in 2 or 3 minutes.
Scrape from the sides of the bowl into a ball and place on your work surface dusted with a little bit of flour.
Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough to about 4 cm thick. Using a round cutter, start cutting the biscuits making sure to dip the cutter into flour after each cut, otherwise the dough will stick to the cutter.
Dust off the biscuits with a small brush. Mix an egg with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl mix and brush each biscuit with a little bit of the egg wash. Garnish with a good amount of cracked pepper.
Place the biscuits on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Bake in a very hot oven 220 Celsius with a fan on, for about 13-15 minutes.
Serve Hot.

TIP DU JOUR : If you do not have buttermilk, simply pour the milk into a bowl and pour 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Mix well and let the milk rest for about 30 minutes. It will start to curdle and this is what you want. The acidity of the vinegar will help the rising agents to activate.
You can substitute the cheese with any type you prefer. You can also add bacon, pancetta in your mixture.

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