The day after I snapped the Eclair Madame Joconde, friends were stopping by in the late morning before heading back to Dijon and I couldn’t decide what to serve. I’d thought of buying some viennoiserie, those yeast-raised sweets that both bakers and patissiers make – sweets like raisin snails (pains aux raisins), kugelhopfs, croissants and brioches – but I decided instead to stay inside where it was toasty and quickly bake a batch of Maple-Cornmeal Biscuits (recipe below).
When my friends arrived at about 11 am, I had the biscuits piled up in a basket and I asked them if they’d like coffee or tea. Their answer: “Red wine!”
Guess what I learned yesterday? Sweet biscuits and red wine go together pretty well.
This is not the most well-behaved biscuit you’ll ever come across – all that sticky maple syrup and slip-through-your-fingers cornmeal produce a dough that’s too moist to roll out and cut into neat little rounds. Here, you scoop the sweet mixture onto baking sheets, count the minutes in the oven and enjoy the surprise: A biscuit that’s a cross between a feather-light cornbread and a flaky scone, a breakfast or tea sweet that’s outrageously good with butter and jam and honey and just as good eaten plain. In fact, if you use tasty, gritty, stoneground cornmeal, the odds are good you’ll want nothing to come between you and its sweet, full flavor.
Makes 12 biscuits
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons; 3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
1/2 cup cold whole milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F; set out a lined baking sheet.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and baking soda together in a mixing bowl. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with the tips of your fingers (my favorite method) or a metal pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between – and that’s just right.
Stir the milk and maple syrup together and pour it over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and toss and gently turn until the ingredients are mostly combined and you’ve got a very soft dough. Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t look perfectly even.
Use a tablespoon to scoop out a dozen mounds of dough onto the lined baking sheet. Slide the sheet into the oven and bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown (these won’t be straight or tall like traditional biscuits). Pull the sheet from the oven and transfer the biscuits to a serving basket.
To serve: These biscuits are unusual in that they are delicious hot, warm or at room temperature. At any temperature, they can be served with butter, honey and jam.
To store: While these are best the day they are made, they can be kept overnight in an airtight container. Warm them briefly in a 350 degree F oven before serving or, if you’d like, split them, spread them with a little butter and run them under the grill.