Originally published in quality newspapers the week of March 14, 2011
You’ve heard, I’m sure of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1930s and 40s, in which movies really came into their own. I wasn’t around during that time but I was for another era of pop-culture significance, the Golden Age of Saturday-Morning Cartoons. In 1966, the year I turned two, all three of the major networks began a four-hour block of children’s program each Saturday morning.
This was before the days of 100s of cable channels, which now includes entire networks devoted to children’s programming. Many a Monday-morning conversation around elementary-school water fountains were about the antics of Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and the other characters that inhabited that colorful world.
During the 1980s other programming began to slip into Saturday mornings and soon the era came completely to an end. For those of us of a certain age, however, Saturday mornings will forever be associated with cartoons.
For me, the Saturday mornings of my formative years have another association – biscuits. My stepfather, a Baptist minister, made biscuits by the dozens to take to the weekly Men’s Prayer Breakfast. I have a photo or two of me, sleepy-eyed and footie pajama-ed, sitting atop the kitchen counter helping him cut out the doughy disks. He would leave a few for the family, and my mother would bake them and serve them with gravy or sometimes apples fried in a cast-iron skillet.
Somehow, in someway, it seems my mind got hardwired, like Pavlov’s dog, so that cartoons remind me of biscuits, and biscuits of cartoons. With the first whiff of a hot-buttered biscuits, I think of Scooby, Shaggy, and the gang, in the Mystery Machine, careening down a winding road to go solve a caper. It works the other way too. If I walk through the room while my children are watching Hong Kong Fuey on the retro channel, my first impulse is to head to the kitchen to preheat the oven.
As a result of my obsession with biscuits I’ve catalogued a great many variations, found all across the U.S – flaky and cakey, lard and butter, thin and thick, buttermilk and regular milk? I’m an equal opportunity biscuit lover, rarely encountered a freshly baked biscuit I don’t like. I won’t even turn my nose up and some canned biscuits. Don’t, however, try to fool me with some sort of pre-baked, then frozen version.
Last week life took me to Charleston, South Carolina, where I discovered yet another variation, the cream cheese biscuit. The other ingredients and overall technique is not unlike most other biscuits except that cream cheese is substituted for some of the butter. The result is a light and cakey biscuit with a double-doze of tang coming from the buttermilk and cream cheese.
The little King Street café in which I ate these delicious biscuits, had a TV turned to CNN. I asked my waitress if they got the Cartoon Network and if she would mind changing the channel. They did and she obliged.
Charleston Cream Cheese Biscuits
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups cake flour
- 1-1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ tablespoon baking soda
- 4 ounces cream cheese, chilled and pinched into small pieces
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 1 cup cold buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Add the cream cheese and butter and use your fingertips to work it into the flour until it takes on a sandy look. Add the buttermilk and use a spatula to fold it into a dough. Turn dough out into a floured work surface and roll out to ¾ inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits, trying to use as much of the dough as possible. You can re-roll the scraps but the second batch will likely not rise as much as the first. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet and back for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.