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Joni Woolf: Simple breakfast breads to make now

Last weekend, while shopping at Food Lion in Americus, I saw a display of thin slices of country ham. Tempted, I bought. Not one package, but two. It had been quite a while since I had indulged myself with this great Southern food, but I decided, at my age, if not now — when?

Breakfast breads are one of life’s greatest indulgences — and simple to prepare. Most days, I eat a bowl of cereal, usually with fruit, and have a couple of cups of coffee. But once in a while, I do indulge in a bread dripping with real butter and topped with preserves. Now that fresh peach and pear preserves are on my shelves, recently stored there for self and others, what better time is there for a bit of self-indulgence? Biscuits with ham, biscuits with preserves — why not have both? So today, we’ll feature three breads, easily made, and just as easily consumed. Put these wherever you store easy, good recipes, and make one of them soon.

 

The following popover recipe is from my oldest cookbook, the Betty Crocker one that I got as a young bride. There is no bread quite like the popover, crusty on the outside and hollow within. They are as simple as biscuits to make, and a bit fancier in presentation.

 

Popovers

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

2 eggs

Beat all ingredients with whisk until smooth. Pour into well-greased, deep muffin cups (3/4 full) or oven glass cups (1/2 full). Bake in hot oven (425 degrees F.) until golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 5 to 9 popovers, depending on size of cup.

 

Apple-Cheddar Scones

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

2 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about ½ cup, lightly packed)

1 large peeled Granny Smith apple, shredded, pressed, and drained (about ¾ cup)

¾ cup buttermilk, more if needed.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place first three ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse till mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl and stir in cheese and apple. Add buttermilk, and stir just till combined. (Do not over-stir.) If dough is still crumbly, stir in more buttermilk, a tablespoon at a time, to bring dough together.  Knead dough gently several times with floured hands on a lightly floured surface (dough should just come together and not be sticky). Pat dough into an 8-inch diameter round, about ½ inch thick. Cut into 8 triangles with a sharp knife and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 24 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.

 

Of all breads served in the South, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or leftovers, as a snack), the simple biscuit reigns supreme. In recent years, the many variations of this basic food have become cover stories in Southern Living, Garden and Gun, and many other publications. Restaurants all over the South complete for “best biscuit” designation. They tend to make it sound difficult. It is not. It is one of the easiest foods to prepare, whatever the occasion. It requires few ingredients, and minimum handling. And no pan of biscuits is like any other. Both my daughters and daughter-in-law make biscuits, based on my recipe (which isn’t mine at all — it came down through the ages, and many readers use it); their biscuits differ from each other’s and from mine. The way we handle the dough, the way our ovens perform, maybe even the way we frown as we stir — who knows? — no two cooks produce identical biscuits. But we can come close. And this recipe has stood the test of time, since I learned it from a good friend some 50 years ago (my husband having said earlier “Please don’t try to make biscuits again”). I did change from Crisco to real butter some years back, but that is the only change I’ve made. Variations of this recipe form the basis for most biscuit recipes. So, make some today. And go get some country ham. We only live once.

 

Simple Biscuits

2 cups White Lily self-rising flour

1/3 cup cold butter, cut in small pieces

¾ cup buttermilk (or more, if needed)

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cut butter into flour with a whisk, or with two knives, until mixture is crumbly. Stir in the buttermilk, adding more if needed, to make a soft dough you can handle with floured hands. Pat out on a floured plastic sheet, or on the counter, into a dough about ½ inch thick. Then cut in rounds and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. For many years, I used a small juice glass for my cutter. Then I graduated to an empty frozen orange juice can. Then my daughter-in-law gave me a box of 12 cutters, so I can choose from among all those sizes (usually choosing the 3-inch size). Bake 12 to 14 minutes. Ovens vary, so bake till they are lightly browned, remove from the oven and spread with butter. Add that piece of country ham. You won’t be in heaven. But for a few minutes you’ll think you are.

 

 

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net