By Lauren Chattman
Always the baker, I like to mix and freeze savory cheese biscuit dough to have on hand during the holiday season. I’ll make enough dough to bake dozens of biscuits. Then I’ll slice and bake what I need when an occasion arises: Freshly baked biscuits are perfect with warm spiked cider when friends drop by to exchange gifts, with Channing Daughters Rosso Fresco before my Christmas Eve lasagna, and with Champagne and cold cooked shrimp from The Seafood Shop on New Year’s Eve.
For many years, I made these biscuits with some respectable Parmesan or Cheddar cheese from the supermarket and got rave reviews. This year, I wanted to mix it up a bit, so I walked down the street to Cavaniola’s Gourmet to learn about the best cheeses for baking. As always, the advice I brought home was as great as the cheese. We talked cheddar, and I was pleased to learn that domestic cheese I had been using was better for my purpose—less oily and more melty—than the more expensive farmhouse cheddars imported from England.
If I wanted to upgrade, I could try Grafton Cheddar from Vermont instead of the supermarket brand. Swiss Gruyere was another good choice, with its smooth texture and deliciously nutty flavor. And then I tasted Piave, an Italian cow’s milk cheese, with a similar consistency but a mellow flavor all its own. The staff at the cheese shop mentioned that in the summer they like to grate it over corn on the cob.
That got me thinking about substituting ¼ cup of yellow cornmeal for an equal amount of flour in the dough recipe when using Piave, for biscuits with great color and a crunch.
I taste-tested some 2-year-old Pecorino as an alternative to Parmesan and liked its assertive flavor. A tablespoon of finely chopped parsley or sage added to a dough made with Pecorino would be a welcome variation. It would also be fun and pretty to press a rosemary leaf or two into the top of each biscuit before baking.
To grate hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino, use a microplane grater (this super-sharp tool was originally designed for woodworking, and discovered by creative cooks looking to make quick work of hard cheese; you can buy one in the cooking aisle at Emporium hardware). For softer cheeses like cheddar, choose the large holes of a box grater, or better yet use the shredding blade of your food processor. A kitchen scale really comes in handy when playing around with the recipe. It’s very difficult to measure grated cheese by volume. Your packed cup of grated Parmesan might weigh a full two ounces, while my lazy, fluffy cup might only weigh a ¾-ounce. Whichever type of cheese you choose, weigh it after grating or shredding it to make sure you are adding just the right amount to your dough.
Icebox Cheese Biscuits Makes about 56 biscuits Two tablespoons of mustard seeds can be added to the Cheddar or Gruyere dough if you like biscuits with a little bite. Or you could lightly dust the tops of the biscuits with paprika or cayenne pepper before baking. If you’re using Parmesan, try adding a tablespoon of ground black pepper to the dough. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese or Gruyere, shredded, or 8 ounces grated Parmesan or Pecorino 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour.
1. Combine the butter, cheese, egg yolk, Dijon mustard, dry mustard, mustard seeds, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times as necessary.
2. Add the flour and continue to beat until the mixture comes together into a ball of dough.
3. Overturn the dough onto a work surface and roll it into a 14-inch log. Wrap the log in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and place the rounds on the baking sheet. Bake until the biscuits are dry and golden on their undersides, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough until you’ve sliced and baked all of the biscuits.