This morning we were having friends over. One vegetarian and one open-minded vegan, both absolutely lovely excuses to try out new recipes for brunch. Concerned for Walker’s meat-loving sanity, they both agreed to a vegetarian, not strictly vegan brunch. We could take away his bacon, but surely we had to at least leave him butter.

One of the foods from the States that you’ll always hear him whine about missing is Bojangles. For those of you who have never spent much time in the American South, Bojangles is a fast food restaurant with what Walker believes to be the best biscuits and sweet tea around.

For a year now I’ve been making plain buttermilk biscuits for him, and he loves them, but he gets frustrated that I won’t make them unless I can let them sit overnight. For some reason, I can never get them to rise nicely without either making them taste like baking powder or letting them have an overnight in the fridge to sort themselves out. It makes very tender biscuits and they’re really tasty, but I had two guinea pigs coming over! I needed to try something new!

Cheddar Black Pepper Biscuits
Adapted from Joy the Baker

makes 10 to 12 biscuits

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk, cold
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a touch of heavy cream and black pepper for topping the biscuits before baking

Preparation

1. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add the cheddar and black pepper and toss to combine.  In another bowl, combine egg and milk and beat lightly with a fork.  Add to flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough.

2. Turn out onto a floured board and pat out into a 1-inch thickness.  Cut into 2-inch rounds using a biscuit cutter or cut into 2×2-inch squares.  Reshape and roll dough to create more biscuits with dough scraps.  Brush tops with a bit of heavy cream and a sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper.

3. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.  Serve immediately with softened butter or as a breakfast sandwich.

We had vegetarians coming over for brunch that morning, so I knew I couldn’t do the traditional bacon and sausage type of sandwich. That’s when I remembered two things. Years and years ago I used to go to a local horseshow with my mom, and there was a woman there selling sandwiches topped really simply with caramelized onions. We would order two and I would always ask for extra onions. I thought, hey, I could make that for a breakfast sandwich filling for vegetarians.

Then I realized that the sandwich would be a little dry. That’s when my grandmother’s sausage gravy came in. She would serve biscuits covered in a creamy white sauce with chunks of spicy sausage. Sausage gravy? But you said you were serving vegetarians! I was. I just changed things up a bit. I substituted diced mushrooms instead. I sauteed them in some butter until they were softened and browned, and then added in two tablespoons of flour. I cooked the flour down to get the pasty taste out, about two minutes, and then slowly added milk, while stirring. Just add milk until the gravy is at a consistency you like.

We made our breakfast sandwiches with a spoonful of mushroom gravy, some caramelized onions, and a scrambled egg, and they were absolutely delectable! They were very flavorful and moist and they were the perfect breakfast sandwich biscuit. Though one of my guests insisted they were scones!

Whatever they were, they were delicious and will be on the menu at our house for quite some time.

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