by Stephanie Zonis
4 to 6 servings
Let's talk about comfort food. It's not fancy or chic, but it is what you turn to when the cold winds blow or life has you down. Biscuits and gravy are a fine example of that, but here, the biscuits are lightly sweetened, and the gravy is chocolate. For a Valentine's Day treat, you can use a small heart-shaped cutter for the biscuits (mine is 2-1/4 inches at the widest part of the heart, and 2 inches from top to bottom); otherwise, use a small cutter of any other shape you please. I've tried making these biscuits with both unsalted butter and vegetable shortening, and, as much as I hate to admit it, the shortening worked better, so that's what I use. If you don't like cinnamon, omit it; substitute the grated zest of 1 medium orange, adding it when you put in the shortening, and leave the cinnamon out of the cinnamon-sugar sprinkled on the biscuits before they bake.
I make the chocolate gravy ahead of time, then chill it (it will keep for a day or two in the fridge). That way, I don't have to be concerned with having the gravy finished just as the biscuits are done baking (the gravy must be served hot, but it can easily be reheated as the biscuits bake). This gravy is quite thick (the way I like it), very chocolate, and not too sweet. If you prefer, you can add a small additional amount of hot milk when making or reheating it, and you can increase the quantity of sugar, too.
A good Southerner will tell you that biscuits and gravy must be served piping hot. I am not from the South, though, and while I always serve this dessert piping hot, it's good at room temperature, too (although the gravy thickens even more as it cools). Once assembled, this does not keep beyond an initial cooling to room temperature, and the biscuits should be made just before they're used.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
(use up to 1/3 cup if you like it sweeter)
3 Tbsp. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into quarters
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
1/3 cup milk
For Baking Biscuits:
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Small amount additional milk
For Chocolate Gravy:
About 1-1/3 cups
Have ready near stovetop a heatproof small pitcher or liquid measure of at least 1-1/2 cup capacity. Tear off a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the pitcher, then pierce it in about 12 places with a toothpick or the tip of a sharp knife. Set aside.
Into 1 quart, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum pot, sift sugar, cocoa powder, flour, and salt. With small whisk, blend well. Add 1/4 cup of the milk (reserve remainder); whisk briskly to form a smooth paste (mixture will be thick). Have butter near stovetop.
In small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat (or use microwave oven), heat remaining milk until very hot. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk into cocoa mixture. Scrape sides and bottom of pot with rubber spatula, then set pot over medium heat.
Cook and stir until gravy comes to a boil, scraping pot bottom and sides occasionally. You will probably see a layer of foam on top—OK. When gravy boils, reduce heat so a low boil is maintained. Boil and stir for 4 minutes; gravy will thicken somewhat. Remove from heat. Immediately add butter. Wait for about 30 seconds, then gently whisk butter into gravy. Without waiting, pour gravy into heatproof pitcher; place perforated plastic wrap directly onto surface of gravy (this prevents a skin from forming on top). Cool briefly, then chill until needed, up to a day or two.
For Biscuits and Assembly:
Adjust rack one-third down from top of oven; preheat oven to 450 degrees F. You'll need a baking sheet, but do not grease or line it.
In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. (So you don't forget, measure out the 2 tsp. granulated sugar and the 1/8 tsp. cinnamon for baking now; blend the two thoroughly in small cup and set aside.) Cover food processor; process at high speed about 15 seconds, until well-blended. Add shortening; cover and process at high speed 15 seconds longer, until shortening is in very fine pieces. Turn into medium bowl. (If you don't have a food processor, sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl, then cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until it's in very fine pieces.) All at once, add the 1/3 cup milk and mix just until a dough is formed.
Turn onto a lightly floured board; knead about 30 seconds (don't overdo the kneading, but don't omit it, either). If dough is slightly sticky, keep your hands floured. Pat or roll dough to a scant 1/2 inch thickness. Flour cutter, then cut dough into shapes; transfer each cutout to baking sheet (for biscuits with softer sides, place cutouts about 1 inch apart--if you like crustier sides, allow more space between biscuits). Gather scraps and form into a ball, then flatten to a scant 1/2 inch thickness and continue cutting until dough is used up. Do not handle dough more than necessary.
With a pastry brush or fingertip, lightly brush the top of each biscuit with a small amount of additional milk, then sprinkle with a bit of the cinnamon sugar (try not to get either milk or sugar on the baking sheet, but if only a little gets on, it's OK).
Bake biscuits in preheated oven for 6 to 9 minutes, turning sheet back-to-front about halfway through baking time. Biscuits are done when well-risen and bottoms are a golden brown (the tops of these don't brown much).
While biscuits bake, reheat gravy. Remove from refrigerator and scrape into a 1 quart, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum pan. Heat over very low heat, stirring very frequently, just until steaming hot. Alternatively, heat in microwaveable container in the microwave at 50 percent (medium) power for short intervals, stirring well after each, until gravy is steaming hot. If you want to serve this dish family-style, you'll need a dinner plate with a flat "well" in the center; otherwise, use dessert or side plates with a flat center "well".
As soon as biscuits are done, remove from oven, then remove to cooling rack. Quickly pour hot gravy into plate "well(s)", dividing it evenly among plates if more than one plate is used. Place hot biscuits on top of gravy (for individual servings, place one or two hot biscuits atop each portion of gravy) and serve. If you served this family-style, given everyone a biscuit or two and some gravy with it.
Copyright © 2001 Francesca Chocolate Productions. All Rights Reserved.
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This page created February 2001
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