In ten days’ time, I’ll be leaving for Prince Edward Island. And though I’ve got plenty of work to keep my mind preoccupied before I pack my bags, the part of my brain that controls my conscious thoughts seems to have departed prematurely. So while my feet are taking me down the grey streets characteristic of the post-snow Edmonton spring, my thoughts are already on green hills, steely seas and red dirt roads. And biscuits.
PEI has been a regular destination for me since 2009, when my parents first started readying themselves for island retirement. And whenever I’ve gone to visit my family, food has been a central part of the experience. Some of the most memorable of those food experiences were those that were new. For example, my first trip into a musty, mosquito-dense forest to hunt for golden chanterelle mushrooms is, for better or worse, not something I’ll be quick to forget.
But the most satisfying of those food experiences are those that are familiar. Which brings me to the biscuits. The inspiration for today’s post comes from my aunt Lorraine’s cheese biscuits, the recipe for which I shared with you when I was in PEI back in 2011. Alongside a great cup of black coffee, they’re a regular fixture at her and my uncle’s place, where we drop in when we’re driving to and from the province’s capital. In the world of biscuits, where hot baking disappears into happy mouths quickly, these have a particularly short life span.
The recipe needs no alteration: the biscuits are tender, flakey and perfectly salted. But I was in the mood for something sweet and experimental. So I re-envisioned the biscuit as a pseudo-healthy pseudo-shortcake, adding honey and nutmeg, scaling back the salt, and topping the whole thing off with lemony blueberries.
Not wanting to leave my newly dairy-sensitive sibling out, I made two batches: one using shortening and milk, as called for by the original recipe, and one using sensitivity-friendly coconut oil and coconut milk. Though neither batch rose as high as the cheese variety (likely due to the inclusion of the more dense whole wheat flour), the texture of the two were comparable and delicious. The coconut variety, I think, lent a nice sweetness to the biscuit, though my two taste testers who tried the coconut version first couldn’t tell there was any coconut in them at all. Mysterious!
As with all biscuits, these are best hot. So, unless you’re in the market to eat ten-or-so biscuits solo, you should make them when you’ve got company. You could, of course, try to scale the recipe down. But to me, that’s not the point of something like a biscuit. As with so many of the foods that make PEI special, these are the sort of thing you make to bring family and friends together. And when the company’s good, the food tastes even better.
Whole Wheat Biscuits with Honey, Nutmeg and Coconut
Adapted from my aunt Lorraine’s cheese biscuit recipe
Makes 10-12 tasty biscuits
Note: I’m digging the coconut version of the biscuits, so I’ve written the recipe with the coconutty ingredients as the default, and the more standard substitution options in parentheses. If you want to make the biscuits vegan, try swapping the honey for an equivalent amount of maple syrup. To make a speedy blueberry sauce, combine 2 cups of frozen blueberries in a saucepan with a tablespoon each of lemon juice and maple syrup. Bubble over medium heat until the blueberries are soft, then spoon over warm biscuits. Makes enough to generously top 6 biscuits.
1 cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg (preferably freshly grated – it’s extra aromatic!)
¼ cup coconut oil, at room temperature (or use ¼ cup vegetable shortening)
¾ cup cold coconut milk, thinned with water to the consistency of regular milk (or use ¾ cup cold milk or other milk substitute)
1½ tbsp liquid honey
1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Optionally line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. With a pastry blender (or a fork), cut the coconut oil/shortening into the flour mixture until the mixture is coarse and crumbly (the fatty bits should be about the size of peas). Whisk together the coconut milk and honey. Slowly add the liquid to the dry mixture, stirring with a fork, until the dough is moist and pulling away from the side of the bowl.
3. Dump the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead just until it comes together (no more than 20 times!), shaping in into a rectangle ¾- to 1-inch high. Cut into rounds with a biscuit/cookie cutter or small glass dipped in flour, placing the biscuit rounds on the baking sheet. Gently reform remaining dough and repeat until you’ve used up all your dough. Bake biscuits for 14-16 minutes or until bottoms and tops are lightly brown. Eat as soon as you can!