I first ate split pea soup at Le Château Frontenac in Old Québec City. It was a cool, cloudy July day and I sipped my first spoonful of creamy, salty, green soup overlooking the Saint Lawrence River. I was thirteen. It all sounds exceptionally glamorous, and it was, mostly because I dined with my beloved grandparents who took me and my sister on fabulous long weekend trips each summer. Every time since that I’ve eaten split pea soup, I think of my grandmother.
This year marked the first Easter since she passed, and after J cooked an exceptionally delicious Easter city ham I was inspired to make ham stock and then split pea soup. The stock veggies were onion, carrots, celery, a few slices of green bell pepper, and lots of asparagus stems (also from Easter). From that, I roughly followed Julia Child’s recipe from The Way To Cook. I sautéed a shallot, a carrot, three ribs of celery (all diced) in butter, added two quarts of hot ham stock (with the fat skimmed off the top), and then about 2 pounds of frozen peas. I KNOW. THIS WAS MY CRITICAL FAILURE. I searched at least three stores and there was nary a split pea in sight. I figured any peas were better than no peas even though they were worse than split peas.
While the soup simmered, I got started on the biscuits. The recipe is from The Newlywed Cookbook but you certainly do not have to be all spoused up to make these. In fact, I'm pretty positive you could snag yourself a spouse if you baked these for a love interest. They're unbelievable.
Disclaimer: I'm certain I used less cheddar than the recipe calls for because I kept slicing myself little snack bites. Multiple times. I love cheddar cheese.
The recipe calls for:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flower
1/2 cup cornmeal or semolina flour (I used cornmeal)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 fine sea salt
dash cayenne pepper (I might have used a DASH instead of a dash - it worked)
1 cup cheddar cheese, freshly grated
10 TBSP cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup half half or heavy cream
1 large egg, beaten
coarse sea salt
Line your baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking power, fine salt, pepper, and cayenne; mix in half of the grated cheese.
Then, cut the cold butter into little bits - I basically quartered regular pats of butter. Work half of the cut butter into the flour mixture with your hands, pinching and mushing until you have pea sized pieces. "Pea sized pieces" reminds you that you're simmering split pea soup, so you glance over at the stove and nothing looks amiss.
Add the remaining butter and continue to mix - and this is a direct quote from the cookbook - "until the mixture resembles couscous." I chuckled. Until a few years ago, I didn't know what couscous was. But luckily now I do and my mixture resembled it! Finally, add the remaining cheese and toss with a fork.
Also with the fork, mix the half and half into the dry mixture until the dough comes together. Rest in the fridge for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Turn the dough out onto your countertop, fold it over on itself twice, and shape into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle. Or, if you are me, a closer to 1/2 inch rectangular blob.
Using a biscuit cutter (meaning: a juice glass), cut dough into rounds. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle with fresh black pepper and coarse sea salt. Please do not skip this step - the little crunchy crystals were one of my favorite parts of these.
Bake until evenly golden around the edges, about 18 minutes.
And then, your love affair with fresh-from-the-oven cheddar cornmeal biscuits begins.
Yup, they were too thin. BUT THEY WERE SO GOOD. These have three perfect flavors all in one: fresh black pepper, cheddar cheese, and cayenne pepper. Like I said, the recipe calls for a dash and I used a more aggressive DASH and it worked. The tangy cheese and the hot cayenne blended perfectly with the sweet cornmeal and the creamy half and half. Since I made mine so flat, I totally rationalized eating more of them at a time. They were also delicious the next morning with a fried egg draped over the top.
The soup? Ah, the soup. It was truly fine. If I hadn't made these exquisitely cheesy biscuits, the soup might have had a fighting chance. But it very much paled in comparison to the biscuits. Despite being very blasé about the soup, J insisted over and over how delicious it was and enjoyed the leftovers just as much. All in all, I'd make both again, but I know that these biscuits will become a regular.