Breaking Bread: The difference between scones and biscuits, and other food trivia
I think I am becoming the Cliff Clavin of food trivia.
For those of you too young to recall (or too young to stay up to watch late-night reruns), Cliff was a character on the 1980s sitcom “Cheers” — a middle-aged mail carrier who often bored fellow bar patrons with his know-it-all tales of obscure facts.
The realization struck me as I was explaining to a co-worker that there really was an Earl of Sandwich, for whom the meat-between-bread combination was named.
Sandwich, a notorious gambler, would not leave the tables long enough even to dine. Instead, he instructed his servants to put his food between bread, so he could eat and play cards at the same time.
I read up on this history to satisfy a question from my 5-year-old niece, Maria, who also taxed my brain with this number: “Why do they call it a sloppy Joe?”
I had answered that one for a reader a while back, so I was prepared to explain that “Joe” refers to an average person, and she already knew the sandwich is sloppy.
The sloppy Joe, by the way, originated in 1934 in Sioux City, Iowa, at the Ye Olde Tavern Inn, the first restaurant on record to offer a loose-meat sandwich on its menu.
Cliff Clavin strikes again.
Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard, but I can’t help wondering whether folks might soon be ducking into hallways when they see me coming to avoid having to listen to my food minutiae.
Blame my enablers.
A few weeks ago, some co-workers posed this question: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
My sage reply: “A hot dog is a sausage. Although we don’t call it a hot dog sandwich, a hot dog on a bun was a type of sausage sandwich.”
Last week, my father got in on the action. I received a text from my sister showing a photo of Dad having lunch at a nice restaurant with her and our mother, his sandwich prominently displayed.
“What makes pumpernickel bread dark?” the text read. Dad wanted to know.
Traditionally, the bread got its color from a combination of coarse rye flour and slow baking in steam ovens. Nowadays, commercial bakers often use molasses, coffee or even caramel coloring to create the rich brown hue.
That question came just days after another co-worker had asked, “Are biscuits and scones essentially the same thing?”
Scones often are flavored with fruit, herbs, cheese or other savories; biscuits are plain.
Traditionally, scones are made with an egg and cream; biscuits contain no egg and are often made with milk or buttermilk.
That’s certainly not always the case, though. One of my favorite scone recipes uses milk, and one of the most famous biscuit recipes — Shirley Corriher’s Touch-of-Grace Southern Biscuits — uses heavy cream.
And, in case you didn’t realize it, Corriher, a food scientist, for several seasons played the role of the mad scientist on Alton Brown’s Food Network show “Good Eats.”
So maybe I can’t stop myself.
I think you’ll forgive me when you try Corriher’s biscuit recipe.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. For some reason, I have a hankering for a cold beer — which, you might not realize, is the third-most-popular drink in the world, behind water and tea.
Oh, never mind.
SHIRLEY CORRIHER’S TOUCH-OF-GRACE SOUTHERN BISCUITS
Recipe adapted from BakeWise (Scribner, 2008) by Shirley Corriher
Makes 12 to 14 biscuits
Non-stick cooking spray
2 cups self-rising flour, preferably low-protein White Lily
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Heat oven to 425 degrees and arrange a shelf slightly below the center of the oven. Spray an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the self-rising flour, sugar and salt. Work the shortening in with your fingers until there are no large lumps. Gently stir in the cream, then some of the buttermilk.
Continue stirring in buttermilk gradually until the dough resembles cottage cheese. It should be a wet mess — not soup, but cottage-cheese texture. If you are not using low-protein flour, this might require considerably more than 1 cup of buttermilk. Spread the all-purpose flour on a plate or a pie pan.
With a spoon, scoop a biscuit-size amount of dough and gently drop it in the flour. Sprinkle with flour to coat. Pick it up and gently shape it into a round, shaking off the excess flour as you work.
Place the biscuit in the prepared cake pan. Repeat. Crowd biscuits in pan as close to each other as possible; this helps them rise. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 to 25 minutes. Brush with melted butter. Cut with knife or spatula and remove. Serve immediately with butter and jam.
PER SERVING: (based on 13) 188 calories, 3 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 10 g fat (5 saturated), 22 mg cholesterol, 376 mg sodium
— Lisa Abraham writes about food for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @DispatchKitchen.