baking, Bucks County farmers' market, Bucks County recipes, Burlington Farmers' Market, Cook's Country, Edith M. Thomas, farmers' markets, Lancaster County, local produce, local specialties, Mary At The Farm, Pennsylvania Dutch, Pennsylvania German, Quaker bonnet biscuits, quick dinner rolls, traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, yeast biscuits
When I moved back to the States after spending a year in Burlington, Ontario, one of the places I was saddest to leave was the local farmers’ market. The Burlington farmers’ market—which has been in operation for over half a century—puts out the most beautiful display of produce I’ve ever seen at a market, sells the world’s best butter, and is home to a genial egg farmer who always has time to chat with customers. Even as the popularity of farmers’ markets skyrockets around the world, one that combines history, charming atmosphere, and good products to this extent is a rarity. When you’ve found a market like that, it’s hard to let it go. However, I was fortunate enough to move to another location with a strong background in farmers’ markets: Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Thanks to the proximity of Lancaster County (famed for its agriculture and dairy farming) and large Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, there is no lack of local food products for sale in my new hometown. And although the farmers’ market in Newtown is a mere seventeen years old, its selection has proved more than satisfactory. Most of the vendors are Pennsylvania Dutch who come in from Lancaster County, and I’m able to buy butter, milk, eggs, and all my meat from them. With this bounty of local products, it seems only right that I should make some local recipes. The Pennsylvania Dutch (or Pennsylvania Germans, as they should properly be called) have many culinary traditions that simply beg to be explored, including these adorable Quaker Bonnet Biscuits, an obscure Bucks County specialty. They received some much-deserved exposure when Cook’s Country featured them in their “Lost Recipe” column, after one of their editors had sampled them at a Pennsylvania farmstand. They finally tracked down a recipe for them in a 1915 book with the long-winded title Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes Complied during Her Visit among the “Pennsylvania Germans,” and updated it for the modern kitchen. The book (which is available for download at Project Gutenberg here) was written by Edith M. Thomas, and is based on the story of Mary Midleton, a young Philadelphia girl newly engaged to be married, who goes to Bucks County to learn housekeeping from her aunt, a Pennsylvania German farmwife. I am finding the story very interesting, but the greatest charm of the book is the compilation of recipes that Mary collected from the Pennsylvania German housewives—out of the almost three hundred pages, nearly two hundred are devoted to this purpose. These yeast biscuits—which even back in 1915 were considered “quaint-looking”—are, according to Thomas, “extra fine” and “delicious.” Mary, she goes on to say, gave them the name Quaker Bonnet Biscuits because of their resemblance to the back of a women’s bonnet. (Apparently, they were a nameless delicacy prior to that.) The delightful part is that they actually do look like little bonnets. I also agree that the biscuits are delicious. Cook’s Country claimed that they combined “the convenience of biscuits with the soft texture and yeasty flavor of good dinner rolls.” All very true, but they neglected to mention the best part, a crispy golden exterior that is wonderfully satisfying to sink your teeth into. And despite being made with yeast, they are quite quick to prepare, as they are put to rise in a warm oven, which accelerates the rising time. And then it only takes fifteen minutes to bake them to a state of golden brown perfection. As these biscuits are made with local egg, milk, and butter, as well as being a local specialty, I am entering them into Random Recipes, hosted by Dom of Belleau Kitchen, which has a special local ingredient theme this month. I am also submitting them to Shop Local, a new blogging challenge from Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary. I look forward to using my local ingredients to try out some more Pennsylvania German and other regional specialties! Quaker Bonnet Biscuits
From a Cook’s Country “Lost Recipe” column (although which issue it appeared in, I’m afraid I don’t know) This detail is clearly not authentic, but the Cook’s Country version calls for using frozen butter that has been grated on the large holes of a box grater. You can do this step in advance, but keep the butter in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
Ingredients:1 cup whole milk, lukewarm 2 ¾ teaspoons active dry yeast 4 cups all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 ½ teaspoons salt 4 oz. unsalted butter, frozen and grated on the large holes of a box grater 1 egg 1 tablespoon melted butter, for brushing
- Position oven racks in upper-middle and lower-middle portions of oven, and preheat to 200ºF. Once the oven comes up to temperature, leave it on for 10 minutes and then shut it off. You will use the warm oven as a rising spot for the biscuits.
- Butter two baking sheets.
- Stir the yeast into the warm milk and let stand 5 minutes, or until bubbles begin to rise to the surface.
- In the meantime, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Gently toss in the grated, frozen butter.
- Beat the egg into the milk-and-yeast mixture and pour the mixture over the flour. Stir together until a stiff dough begins to form.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.
- Roll out into a ¾-inch thick circle and cut out sixteen 2 ½-inch rounds.
- Arrange on the prepared baking sheets.
- Gather together the scraps and re-roll them into a ½-inch thick circle. Cut out sixteen 1 ¼-inch rounds.
- Brush the larger rounds on the baking sheets with melted butter. Set a smaller round on top of each large round, positioning it slightly off-center.
- Brush the top of the smaller rounds with the remaining melted butter.
- Cover the trays with kitchen towels and place them in the warm oven. Let the biscuits rise for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffy and doubled in size.
- Remove the trays from the oven and preheat it to 375ºF. Once the oven comes up to temperature, return the biscuits to the oven and bake for 15 to 17 minutes until golden brown, switching the position of the trays halfway through.
- Serve hot. Butter and jam are completely optional—these biscuits taste marvelous on their own.
Yield: 16 biscuits