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Maybe it's just all my memories of dining out as a kid, but nothing goes with a big bowl of chowder quite like a fluffy cheddar biscuit. To my mind, they shouldn't be as buttery as a classic biscuit: a little less rich so they don't compete with the creamy broth, and a bit breadier so they don't crumble apart after dunking. They should also be garlicky and generously spiced, easy to throw together with just a moment's notice, and they shouldn't have any special ingredients that might be cause for delay.
My go-to drop biscuit mix couldn't be simpler: all-purpose flour, fresh parsley or chives, a dash of powdered onion, garlic, paprika, and cayenne—plus salt and a pinch of sugar to round out those savory notes. It's just about a perfect blend as far as I'm concerned, but the flavor and intensity of those spices will vary by freshness and brand (not to mention personal taste), so consider the proportions a starting point and feel free to tweak them as you see fit.
Less subjective is my choice to leaven the biscuits with baking powder instead of baking soda—an alkaline ingredient that would neutralize the tangy flavor of buttermilk. With baking soda, buttermilk biscuits take on a deeply savory, almost pretzel-like note and dark color similar to Irish soda bread. Plenty of classic buttermilk biscuits call for soda, and there's nothing wrong with that, but by switching to baking powder the overall flavor of the biscuits remains bright and tangy, which serves as a better backdrop for the intensely garlicky mix of herbs and spices, and the richness of the cheese.
After tossing the cheddar with the dry ingredients, you can bag up the "mix" and refrigerate it until the date stamped on the package of cheese. It's a great way to knock out the most tedious portion of the recipe (measuring out all the herbs and spices, then shredding the cheese). Having it handy makes it convenient to whip up a batch of biscuits even for a weeknight dinner, or for those nights when you'd like to get some fresh bread on the table—especially in winter months, when you can't go a week without whipping up some sort of hearty chili or stew.
Whether you save the biscuit mix for later or want to make them right away, finishing up is easy. Just fold in some buttermilk to form a soft dough. Thanks to the high volume of finely shredded cheese, the dough won't be as wet as traditional drop biscuits, but will still be soft enough to drop from a spoon. Besides, rolling would only compress the light dough.
Finely grating the cheese increases its surface area to such an extent that the cheddar behaves more like a dry ingredient, offsetting the liquid content of the buttermilk and contributing to the physical volume of the biscuits. Shredding the cheese any other way will decrease the yield of the recipe and result in biscuits that are dense and wet, which will lead to the dough spreading too much in the oven.
Not only does finely shredded cheese improve the texture of the biscuits, it also intensifies the color and flavor of the dough so it's golden with cheddar in every bite. The perfectly homogeneous distribution of cheese lets the bottoms of each biscuit brown until golden and crisp, like the lacy cheese bits that cook up around the edges of a grilled cheese sandwich.
So instead of a plain biscuit studded with the occasional ribbon of cheese, you've got a mouthful of cheese in every bite—which is exactly what I want when it comes to a light and fluffy cheddar biscuit. Chowder or not.
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