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There's a traditional Southern tea recipe that wraps a very spicy cheese biscuit dough around a whole pitted date, resulting in a sweet and savory combination that is an interesting change from the all-sweet cookie or the all-savory cheese cracker. This variation on that theme produces the same neat combination of tastes and texturessweet and salty, crisp and chewy.
When we tested the recipe here at King Arthur, every person except one said they liked the biscuits; that one nay-sayer said she would have preferred nuts to currants (she suggested pecans, walnuts or pistachios), making it an all-savory cheese cracker. While this would undoubtedly be a tasty variation, it misses the point of this particular biscuit, which we find appealingly "half a bubble off plumb," as they'd say in Maine: familiar, but different; almost normal, but not quite.
By the way, this biscuit is more akin to the traditional British biscuit (a cookie or cracker) than to the soft rolls we call biscuits in America. These "biscuits" are about the thickness of a soda cracker, and crunchy, tender and a bit chewy all at the same time. Serve them as part of a cracker assortment; a bit of cream cheese and pepper jelly is a nice accompaniment.
1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper*
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (1 5/8 ounces) shortening
8 ounces (about 2 cups) grated Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup (2 ounces) milk
1 heaping cup (6 ounces) currants
*This amount of cayenne produces a biscuit that is noticeably hot, but not searingly so; adjust the quantity to your own taste.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cayenne, mustard, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter and shortening, then add the cheese. Stir in the milk and currants to form a stiff, cohesive dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. This serves two purposes: it relaxes the gluten in the flour, allowing the dough to become more extensible (i.e., easier to roll out), and it solidifies the fat, which will result in a more tender biscuit.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface, and roll it out about 1/4-inch thick; this is just about as thin as the currants allow you to roll it. Using a rolling pizza wheel (the easiest method), a sharp knife or a baker's bench knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2-inch between each.
Bake the biscuits in a preheated 375°F oven for 14 to 15 minutes, or until they're a light golden brown, and a slightly darker brown around the edges. Watch outthey start to brown very quickly towards the end of the baking time, so keep your eye on them. Yield: 60 biscuits.
Nutrition information per serving (3 biscuits, 38g): 145 cal, 8.3g fat, 4g protein, 13g complex carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 19mg cholesterol, 137mg sodium, 104mg potassium, 61RE vitamin A, 1mg vitamin C, 1mg iron, 115mg calcium, 83mg phosphorus.