We went to a New Year’s party! And that means baking. I did 3 variations on the Buttermilk Biscuits recipe, all told, and Gingerbread with cranberries. Now, I’ve made a lot of buttermilk biscuits, but they’re usually the recipe from a cookbook called Ladle, Leaf, & Loaf, which I actually used to have memorized because I did it so often. (I don’t anymore.) I make fake-buttermilk for this, to deal with the cow-casein-allergic partner: a cup of almond milk mixed with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar gives you a cup of buttermilk. Similarly, I use Earth Balance or Smart Balance in place of butter. Those two substitutions are almost automatic for me at this point.
Doing a cookbook this way is causing me to spot some of its quirks: Mark Bittman is very light on add-ins by my standards. I made his gingerbread recipe, which was moist and gingery and spiced and perfect. It has a variation in which you stir in up to half a cup of cranberries, so I stirred in half a cup of cranberries and it was wonderful. It made lovely, lovely gingerbread that was very popular at the party. People were vocal in its praise. But everybody said it could have stood to have twice or three times as many cranberries as it did. I think it could have done that too; the acidity of the cranberries nicely balanced the heaviness of the gingerbread. (This is a very dense bread. I did it in the flat square pan instead of a loaf pan, and it did not take the half the time it says it should when you do that, which suggests that if you do it in a loaf pan it takes even longer than the stated 50-60 minutes, and is probably heavier.)
For the biscuits, I did three variations. The first one was half flour and half sweet potato flour, because we had run out of AP flour. Unfortunately, we had also run out of baking soda, which I discovered after I had already started the mix, so my partner had to run out for baking supplies, which included picking up AP flour, so I could have done these right if I’d read the whole recipe before starting. Then again, I maybe would have assumed we had it; baking soda is one of those things I consider a pantry staple. Let this be a lesson about checking to make sure you have everything before you start! (A lesson I have learned this way several times before and will probably learn this way again. This is one of the ways I got so good at substitutions.)
The second variation was one that was straight-up gluten-free and vegan but otherwise followed the recipe– I used Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten-free baking flour. I didn’t try one of these, and they came out kind of… cracked and dry… but the gluten-free person at the party seemed grateful they were there. Either there weren’t as many gluten-free people at the party this year or this isn’t as good a recipe as the hypoallergenic bread I got from modifying a drop biscuit recipe in a different cookbook– the year I brought that to the party it was gone by the end of the night! I suspect it’s both, actually; one of the principles of substitution is that the fewer structural ingredients you have, the harder it is to substitute one of them and the closer the substitute needs to be to the original. What I did today is a very simple biscuit recipe; the other was a more complex one, which means there were more ingredients to take up the slack for the lack of gluten, and it was a drop biscuit recipe, which means there was more liquid in it to keep it moist. (I suspect the gingerbread would work well gluten-free; the batter was very thick but still very wet, which implies the flour is not the primary thing holding it together.)
The third variation I made this morning (New Year’s Day!) for today’s party, and it’s full-flour but one of the listed variations in the book: sausage, goat cheese, and parsley are mixed in before adding the “buttermilk”. There was another weird quirk related to mix-ins with that one, as it says to remove the casings from 3 or 4 sausages and use the meat. Now, “sausage” is not actually a standard size, and the sausages we got were so large there was definitely more meat in them than was a good idea. My partner suggested that by “sausage”, Bittman probably means the 12-to-a-pound kind, and what you actually want is the 8-to-a-pound kind. (Ours were 4-to-a-pound.) This is borne out by comparison with the cheese and the parsley, which he actually did give concrete amounts for: a quarter of a cup of each, which is not enough. I don’t know how much I put in exactly, because I looked at it as it was added, went “that’s not enough, and the meat’s too much”, and just kept adding things until it looked right. We used grated goat cheddar instead of the crumbled goat cheese the book recommends, and the one I tried right after they came out of the oven was just absolutely delicious. (My partner’s roommate also approves.)
Time to head out to the party and see what reception these get. Happy New Year!