Monday, 27 February 2012

Leek and white cheddar sour milk biscuits

I am sure you have done this too. Purchased a bottle of milk, fully intent on using every drop but somehow the expiration date comes and the bottle is still half full (or half empty if you prefer). This happens to me all too often but this time I am using the fact that I had a head injury as my excuse. Good excuse or not I cannot stand to see milk go down the sink, knowing those cows that dedicate their lives to providing me with milk, knowing the energy that goes into making the containers that carry the milk and knowing that the organic milk I buy is not cheap.

Staring at this expired milk in my fridge I knew I was going to use it somehow, I refused to waste it. I was encouraged by my memory of a passage I read in Nelson Mandela's autobiography. There was a story about how when Nelson Mandela was hiding out he was almost discovered because he had left some milk in the window to warm and sour. 

Sour milk also called amasi was apparently something Nelson Mandela loved that his mother would make as a child and was commonly consumed by the Xhosa people (a subgroup of the Bantu people). During the apartheid the Bantu people were segregated to very specific areas of South Africa. To see a bottle of milk in the window of a home could have been a telltale sign that a non-white person was hiding in a whites-only neighborhood.

The memory of this striking passage prompted me to investigate what I could do with sour milk. Thanks to Google I was able to find that it is not uncommon to use sour milk in baking things like biscuits, muffins and chocolate cake. Soured milk is essentially milk with high acidity, the acid is produced by non-harmful bacteria that grow in and ferment the milk. If you are smarter than me you may already know that buttermilk is also a form of soured milk. As long as the milk is not too far away from expiration (a week or two) and there is no mold you should be good to go.

I modified a very simple recipe I found to make these biscuits; I omitted the egg, added cooked leeks and a touch of honey and topped them with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. I also increased the milk amount because I do not like my biscuits too dry. Lastly, I employed a technique I learned from Heidi Swanson's biscuit recipe (Super Natural Everyday Cookbook) whereby the dough is cut and stacked and rolled a couple of times to give the biscuits some flaky layers.

Leek and white cheddar sour milk biscuits
The only lengthy part of this recipe is cooking the leeks which should be cooked with care, at a low temperature trying not to let the leeks dry out or brown. If you want to make this recipe easier, throw in some chopped chives or herbs instead of cooked leeks - or omit them altogether for a simpler biscuit. Also, if you don't have sour milk just use regular milk or buttermilk. Honestly, the milk I used was expired for 4 days but still smelled fine so I do not even think it was sour.

1 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 leeks chopped, green parts and roots removed
3 cups all purpose organic flour
1.5 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup chopped cold butter
1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar
1 cup 1% sour milk
2 tbsp honey
Freshly grated parmesan

1 - Preheat oven to 425F.
2 - On stove, warm 1 tbsp of oil in a pan to medium-low heat.
3 - Stir in leeks and continue to cook over low heat until soft (about 15-20 minutes), stirring often and being careful to not brown. If leeks seem to be drying out add about a tsp or two of water to the pan.
4 - Meanwhile combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
5 - Stir in the chopped butter. Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry knife or use your fingers to break apart the butter chunks into smaller bits. Continue cutting until flour mixture takes on a grainy appearance (a few minutes).
6 - Stir the cheddar cheese and the cooked leeks into the flour.
7 - Stir the honey into the milk then stir about 3/4 of the milk mixture into the flour.
8 - Depending on how wet or dry your dough is, stir in the remainder of the milk. The dough should be slightly sticky, not too dry, and should hold its shape well. Add extra milk if your dough feels too dry or is still crumbly.
9 - Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until just evenly mixed.
10 - Flatten dough with hands or roll out dough to about 1 inch to 1.5 inch thickness.
11 - Cut dough in half, stack two halves on top of each other and press or roll out again to 1.5 inch thickness. Repeat again cutting and stacking and rolling to about 1 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface (so the biscuits do not stick to counter).
12 - Use a glass or a round cookie cutter to cut out biscuits from dough. Reshape dough as needed and continue cutting biscuits until all of the dough is used. The last couple of biscuits may just need to be formed by hand.
13 - Lay biscuits on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
14 - Sprinkle biscuits with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
15 - Bake biscuits for 12 - 15 minutes, rotating pan once, half way through cooking, to encourage even cooking. 
16 - Remove biscuits from oven when they are golden brown.

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