Back at the first restaurant I worked in, the chef wanted me to come up with a cheese biscuit as part of an asparagus side dish. We were already making buttermilk biscuits for another dish, so I asked if I could just add cheese to that recipe. He told me that he wanted me to find a different recipe; that it couldn't be as simple as that. So, I said sure and went to do some research. This was my biscuit aha moment. Almost all of the biscuit recipes I found were exactly the same, not counting any flavorings or "mix ins." So, I just took matters into my own hands and made our standard biscuits and then rolled in cheddar cheese. I didn't just mix it in with the dry ingredients, though. I made the biscuit dough, patted it out into a rectangle, sprinkled some cheese on half, folded it over and rolled it. I added the cheese in 6 additions, so what I ended up with was a biscuit that was layered with cheese.
Now, as you guys know, all of that rolling activated the gluten, but it didn't matter, because I was going for a flakey biscuit. The water in the cheese pushed the layers apart some and the cheese got all melty and wonderful. These guys rose about 3X their original height in the convection oven. Beautiful and Tasty. Then, I decided to try adding some mustard powder and cayenne to the dry mix. Even better. And that's how the spicy cheese biscuit was born.
Several months later, when all of us who were opening the new restaurant were brainstorming ideas, the issue of bread service came up. Do we order from the local artisan bakery like the first restaurant? Do we make our own bread sticks or focaccia? Well, I spoke up and said, "Hey, we could make cheese biscuits." Time stopped, and the idea took hold. I tried to take it back, but it was too late. The Idea was Out There, and there was nothing to be done. We decided on a mixture of freshly grated parmesan and Emmentaler cheeses, reduced the spicing just a bit since everyone who came into the restaurant would be getting some, and our signature cheese biscuits were born.
I made a bajillion of these things a day, and for the first several months, we didn't have the salad shooter attachment for the Robot Coupe, so I was grating 6 pounds of cheese a day. By hand. Friends, I was in Biscuit Hell. Sure, the customers loved them. They loved them so much that they wanted seconds, and then thirds. Within the first week of being open, I started coming in an hour earlier just so I could get the biscuits made and in the freezer for service that night. Patrons got grumpy when we started limiting their Cheese Biscuit Consumption. Finally, we had to start charging for them as a starter, otherwise I would have done nothing all day but make biscuits, and I was also supposed to be making Bloody Mary mix for the bar as well as all the dessert components and ice creams and sorbets and garnishes and.....At any rate, people were grumpy, but they paid for those biscuits, and they liked it.
I cut the biscuits in squares so there wouldn't be any waste or re-rolling, but I had been trashing the irregular ends. I talked to the chef/owner about baking them off and selling them cheap as "Ugly Ends," available only at lunch. At 6/$2, they were a Hot Ticket and went Quickly.
If you want to make some, here's how. I used to make 9 pounds of flour's worth almost every day
Bane of My Existence Spicy Cheese Biscuits
- 8 oz. all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- generous 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp mustard powder (we used Coleman's)
- 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
- 4 oz. cold, unsalted butter
- 4 oz. heavy cream
- 4.5 oz. buttermilk, plus more for brushing
- 5 oz. shredded Emmentaler cheese
- 1 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese
Thoroughly whisk together the flour, leaveners, salt, mustard powder and cayenne. Pinch in the butter with your fingers. You want some of it to be rubbed into the flour, but lots of it can be left in baby lima bean sized pieces. Not fava beans, so don't get carried away.
Fold in the cream and buttermilk. I always used my hand for this, sweeping it around the sides of a big metal bowl. The dough will be very wet in some parts and not so much in others. You don't want it to come together in a ball--it should still be pretty raggedy and ugly looking.
Sprinkle a pretty impressive layer of flour on a work surface and turn out the raggedy dough. Pat the dough into a square or rectangle that's about 1/2" thick. Sprinkle 1 ounce of the mixed cheese onto half of the dough. Using a bench knife to help you, scrape and fold the rest of the dough over onto the half with the cheese. This will be ugly. The dough won't hold together, and you might start to get sweaty with Consternation. Fear not. Just pat the fallen apart pieces into place on top of the cheese.
Lightly flour the top of the dough, and then roll it out until it's about 1/2" thick again. Using the dough scraper to help you, turn the whole thing on the counter 90 degrees. Add an additional ounce of cheese, fold over the dough and roll again. Repeat these steps four more times to use up all the cheese. You'll find that the dough comes together better and better, and it will become a little harder to roll. Don't worry; it will be okay. Just make sure that you flour under the dough to keep it from sticking when you fold and turn and that you flour the top of the dough to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Brush off excess flour before sprinkling on the cheese. Each time you roll and fold, try to keep the dough in as much of a rectangular shape as you can manage. This takes some practice, so if yours looks like an amoeba the first time, it will still taste Very Good.
After the last addition, make sure the dough is as square as you can get it. Trim off the edges to make a true rectangle. You can bake these as your own ugly ends. Cut the biscuits in whatever sized squares/rectangles you want. Since ours were for bread service, they were about 1.5" square. Put them on parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about an inch or so between them, and brush the tops with some buttermilk.
In a convection oven, bake at 375F for 8 minutes. (If you don't have a convection oven, start them at 400F, and then turn the heat down if you think they're browning too fast). Then turn them and bake them until they are a beautiful golden brown. You can also freeze these and bake them from frozen. Just brush with buttermilk and throw them in the oven, turning once, until Golden and Lovely.
These are great for making egg biscuits, or sausage biscuits, or bacon biscuits. But, our favorite way to eat them was with our house-made raspberry jam.
Feel free to substitute 6 oz. cheddar for the parm and Emmi, if you'd like. You can also add herbs or change up the spices. I have a sneaking suspicion that those amazing cheddar biscuits from that famous seafood chain have Old Bay in them. And cheddar. Not sure if I'm right, but it sounds reasonable.