Monday, November 21, 2011

Hot Biscuits.

It is certain that the phrase ‘hot biscuits’ triggers completely different images in the minds of folks from different parts of the world. In the USA, if I am not mistaken, it indicates 'hot-from-the-stove' items served with gravy for breakfast – an item which in Britain (and Australia) would be called a scone, and served with jam and cream for afternoon tea. In England, ‘hot biscuits’ would be more likely to indicate 'hot-from-spices', thin, crisp ‘cookies’ such as one would serve with cheese or dips.

I came across a reference recently to ‘cayenne biscuits’ in a context that suggested they were of the British type of ‘hot biscuit’, and thought they would make a fine topic for this blog. It proved surprisingly difficult however, to find a recipe for them. I thought I had succeeded when I came across the following recipe in The Times of  March 18, 1940:

Cayenne Biscuits.
Make a paste with equal quantities of margarine, flour and grated cheese. Roll out as thin as possible, cut into rounds or strips, bake in a quick oven until a light brown, and serve hot. This is the perfect cheese biscuit.

I don’t know whether it was the cook or the copy editor who left out the cayenne, leaving us with a fine recipe for cheese crackers!  I guess the cayenne needs to be added ‘according to taste.’

A little further sleuthing came across an excellent idea from a professional baker – the author of
The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker's Assistant (1854). He has an interesting idea to ensure that the heat and flavour is evenly dispersed through the biscuits.

Cayenne Biscuits. These are the same as the former [plain yeast-raised thin crackers], with the addition of cayenne pepper: the way in which it is added is very bad, as it gives some biscuits a greater portion than others, which cannot be avoided when the powder is mixed with the dough or flour. To obviate this, I use an infusion of cayenne in spirits of wine, which I add to the water or milk, when they may be flavoured equally, to any height required. Take the following proportions for it: 1 oz. of cayenne pepper, or capsicum berries, (or if required very strong, 2 oz. should be used,) which steep for fourteen days in 1 pint of spirits of wine or good gin; put the whole into a bottle, and cork it close; use the clear liquor—a few drops will suffice. I never knew any other person adopt this method.
These are sold in boxes, as the others, and are principally eaten with wine, after dinner, as a stimulant to excess.

Now, wouldn’t that cayenne-gin be a good stand-by for your pantry? Or a gift for the spice-lover in your life?

Quotation for the Day

The inventor of soda crackers has a place in hell. 
Martin H. Fischer


Mama Hen said...

We use cayenne vinegar in lots of different foods here in Texas. This could be even better!
You are correct that here in the states "hot biscuits" would refer to hot from the oven, and are often served smothered in gravy for breakfast. They are also served at various times with butter and jam.
I would not really equate them with scones, however; the texture as well as the flavor is entirely different. I certainly cannot imagine scones with gravy - besides not being a good flavor combination, the dish would be entirely too heavy. (At least this is my opinion based on the scones I've had here in the states, which may be poor substitutes for the real thing.)

Anonymous said...

Biscuits tend to be very flaky inside, something like a good croissant, but not as fine. They are best hot, acceptable reheated, and not good at all when cold (my opinion). A good basic biscuit is equally tasty smothered in sausage gravy (essentially a white sauce with crumbled sausage meat in it) or dolloped with honey or jam or jelly, with or without butter. Or you can copy an idea from McDonald's and put a sauteed egg in it for a hot breakfast sandwich.

The infusion of cayenne sounds something like the saffron infusion I use when cooking medieval recipes. Very practical!

Jenny Islander

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Mama Hen and Jenny. My apologies for the delayed repy - I have a new granddaughter and have been distracted and busy.
Thanks to both of you for correcting my interpretation of 'hot biscuits' - I obviously have to come over and try the real thing sometime!