Then and Now: Whole Wheat Walnut Biscuits
I don’t like looking back.
Especially when it comes to food.
Peering through a culinary lens, the past, my past can appear unsavory, largely decorated with Tombstone pizzas, Jello and Cool Whip desserts, and countless casseroles fashioned out of Kraft Mac and Cheese. Mom can’t be blamed for all of those missteps. To be fair, to myself and my mom, there were a few delicious highlights like Mom’s lasagna, fried fruit pies, and Texas sheet cake. Though certainly deserving of a place in my cookery present and future, those standouts were forever locked in my past when my mom died.
Alas, the past cannot be altered. I can’t turn back the clock or the gas flame and rescue the blackberry jam that I overshot and turned into a chunky blackberry caramel. The future, on the other hand, is full of hope, of jams to come, of berries yet to pick, and favorite foods as yet undiscovered.
So my recent fixation on old cookbooks caught me by surprise. A colleague of mine from my previous life as a structural engineer got wind of my current endeavors and graciously gifted me his cookbook collection, most of which dated back to the late 50s and the 60s. For two weeks I have lulled myself to sleep turning the pages of Gourmet’s Menu Cookbook, Gourmet’s Old Vienna Cookbook: A Viennese Memoir, and more. In Gourmet’s Menu Cookbook Earle MacAusland paints a striking contrast to the present: “Food that can be served from trays and eaten with the fingers is best for a small party. To attempt to manage a plate, a glass, and a cigarette all at once can prove most uncomfortable.” Yes, indeed. More surprising given the fifty years that separate my present from Earle’s are recipes like Curried Walnuts and Camembert Shortbread, which seem ahead of their time. (And yes, Earle, they would be easy to handle along with that wine glass and cigarette.)
A simple recipe for walnut biscuits was the first recipe from those pages of time to capture my imagination and the first one I tried. I couldn’t resist the urge to give it an update, swapping out the all-purpose flour for my new favorite whole wheat pastry flour. I love biscuits; they’re a soul-satisfying, portable comfort food, and they are easy to make. The extra steps of rolling the dough and dressing it up with sugar and nuts added just five minutes, but it was time, you will likely agree, well spent. On their own these biscuits strike a perfect balance between sweet and savory. I slathered my second, (That’s right, you can’t eat just one.) with homemade fig preserves, pushing it into the equally delicious but decidedly sweet realm.
If only all history lessons could be so unforgettably good.
Whole Wheat Walnut Biscuits
Adapted from Gourmet’s Menu Cookbook recipe for Walnut Biscuits.
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus additional for dusting the board
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
- Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in 1/4 cup butter.
- Stir in the milk. You want a soft but not sticky dough.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for 30 seconds.
- Roll the dough out into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle.
- Spread the remaining, softened butter over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter, followed by the walnuts.
- Roll the long edge of the dough up, gently patting it as you roll so that it holds together. Lightly pinch the seam together and roll the finished log so that the seam is on the bottom.
- Cut the log into 1.25-inch thick slices. Lay the slices on the lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned on tops and dark golden on the bottoms.
Makes 10-12 scones.