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The Secret Ingredient for Better Biscuits—Nay, *All* Savory Baking

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Most home cooks have a few back pocket recipes that they can rely on every time, dishes that require no more than a mere glance at the recipe. Biscuits are my go-to. I know the exact feel of the dough at every stage. I’ve memorized the ratio of flour to baking powder to milk. I can throw a batch together in under 10 minutes, easily, and have them baking while I take a shower.

Photo by Posie Harwood

This isn’t just a soliloquy on my confidence in the biscuit game. (It's all thanks to my mother, anyway, as it’s through watching her that I learned how to make them so ridiculously flaky.) Most recipes of this category—the tried-and-true favorites—are ones I don’t mess around with. The flavor profile of a basic biscuit is a nice blank canvas for different add-ins, like cheese or herbs or spices. But I stick with ingredients in the same family. I’ll sub one hard or semi-hard cheese for another (Parmesan for cheddar, for example), or swap dried herbs (rosemary for basil, perhaps). I don’t reinvent the wheel.

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But I’m open to inspiration. I was flipping through the Ovenly cookbook and came upon their recipe for cheddar-mustard scones. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, Ovenly is a gorgeous Brooklyn bakery run by two incredible women, and the menu is classic with a few twists: cakes, scones, biscuits, pies, and more, in simple flavors with a few creative flavors thrown in here and there. I’ve eaten these scones. They are very, very good.

Ovenly's Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ovenly's Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies by Genius Recipes

Cacio e Pepe Biscuits

Cacio e Pepe Biscuits by Posie Harwood

I made the scones. I loved the scones. I had to try the mustard trick elsewhere! Using one of my favorite biscuit recipes, crossed with the Ovenly scone recipe, I came up with these savory mozzarella mini biscuits.

Photo by Posie Harwood

As the recipe notes, the mustard isn’t a prominent flavor, and it’s actually hard to detect in the finished result. But the sharp savory taste of it makes the cheese and butter pop more, like adding a squeeze of lemon juice to a creamy chicken dish would. It's a smart, under-appreciated trick, just as useful as adding acid or salt. How had I never tried this in my savory baking?

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Using fresh mozzarella lets the cheese stay somewhat intact during baking: it oozes just the right amount from every bite. They’re perfectly flaky with just a hint of this intriguing umami-type flavor, which is thanks to the mustard. (Sometimes I add a handful of chopped fresh herbs, or some dried herbs, and sometimes I skip it and go for full-on cheese.)

Photo by Posie Harwood

Be sure to use very good grainy mustard! And while you could use shredded mozzarella, I highly recommend seeking out the best-quality fresh mozzarella you can find. In a recipe with so few ingredients, each one really matters. These are exceptional biscuits, the sort that elicit groans of pleasure from even the most reserved eaters.

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Savory, Secret-Ingredient Mozzarella Biscuits

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Makes 15 biscuits
  • 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (115 grams) very cold unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups (340 grams) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons dried herbs or 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (optional)
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