Thanksgiving: lemon & thyme buttermilk biscuits and cornbread muffins

For many, Thanksgiving treads a fine line between traditional and boring. These recipes are traditional with an edge, to keep things interesting

Stephen Lucek’s bacon, maple and pecan cornbread muffins and buttermilk biscuits

Stephen Lucek’s bacon, maple and pecan cornbread muffins and buttermilk biscuits


Stephen Lucek is from Boston. This is the ninth Thanksgiving he has celebrated in Ireland

The fourth Thursday in November is once again upon us. Charlie Brown is lining up to kick a football and really believes that this time, this time, he’s going to connect and that is going to change his whole outlook on life. Thanksgiving, of course, means many things to many people. It’s a chance to catch up with old friends and family, but can sometimes remind you of why you only see these people once a year.

Lately, it’s also become the precursor to the commercial bacchanalia of Black Friday. For some, Thanksgiving is the 90 minutes that we must endure before strapping ourselves into our cars and driving to a nearby mall so as to be amongst the first 100 shoppers at midnight or whenever the stores are opening to fanfare and deals. It’s no wonder that the automobile is so intertwined with American anxiety. So many movies that are set around Thanksgiving involve time sensitive (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), treacherous (The Ice Storm), or angst-ridden (Dutch) travel.

Like a nervous groundhog in February, most Americans know what to expect over the next couple of days: endless hours in traffic; the bare, no longer resplendent trees; and explaining to their elderly relatives what “vape” means. Okay, so some things change, but it is so easy to fall into the familiar patterns of the holiday. There’s a fine line between traditional and boring. Here are a couple of fairly traditional recipes, but changed just enough to make them interesting again.

Lemon & Thyme Buttermilk Biscuits
These are so similar to savoury scones that you could be excused for calling them scones. Most of the same principles apply: use the coldest butter and buttermilk you can use; don’t over-work your dough; use a pastry cutter of some description.

450g Plain flour, plus some for dusting
2 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp grated Lemon zest
2-3 springs of thyme, roughly chopped
50g very cold butter cut into small cubes
225ml very cold buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 210C/200C(fan)/400F/Gas Mark 6. Start by sifting together your flour, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add in the lemon zest and chopped thyme. Next, work the butter into the dry ingredients like you’re making shortcrust pastry or the topping for crumble. You don’t want the butter to get too soft as the steam the butter creates when it goes into the oven will give you the flakey consistency that you want.
Now, add your buttermilk, stirring with either your hands or a wooden spoon. The mixture should just come together loosely. If it doesn’t, you can add another 25ml or so of buttermilk, little by little until you have taken up all of the dry ingredients.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it down into a circle, to about 1/2 inch (2cm) in thickness. Using a scone or biscuit cutter (if you use a teacup, I won’t be upset) dipped into a little bit of milk, cut your biscuits and place them onto a lined baking tray. (I use a small biscuit cutter and the recipe yields about 24 biscuits, but bigger ones are fine, too.) Lightly brush the tops with the leftover milk from the cutter.
Place the baking tray into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes. You’ll definitely want to check them after 10 minutes as they can cook quite quickly. Larger biscuits will take closer to 15 minutes. The biscuits are done when they are golden brown on the top. Remove from the oven and onto a cooling rack. You can make them in advance, but warm them a bit before serving.

Maple, Pecan & Bacon / Cranberry & Walnut Cornbread Muffins
If you want to make both of these types of cornbread, who’s going to stop you? You might like to make a dozen of each or half a dozen of each or some plain, some flavoured, etc. You’re the boss. I made half and half.

6 oz maize meal
16 fl oz buttermilk
8 oz plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt (fine grained)
2 oz soft light brown sugar
2 oz granulated sugar (white or brown is fine)
3 eggs

For the Maple, Pecan & Bacon Muffins:
1 oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp chopped toasted pecans
50g bacon lardons

For the Cranberry & Walnut Muffins:
1 oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp chopped toasted walnuts
15g dried cranberries

The night before you intend to bake these muffins, combine the maize meal and the buttermilk in a large bowl. Stir them together, then cover with cling film. Leave this mixture on the worktop overnight.
In a small pan, fry off your bacon, then leave to cool. Preheat your oven to 160C/150C fan/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease 12 muffin tins with butter or margarine. Melt 1 ounce of the butter in one pot and the other ounce in another pot. When the butter is melted, stir in the honey to one pot and maple syrup into the other pot. (I cannot stress this enough: have a system for knowing which is which. I find smelling to be the most effective.)
Sift together the half of the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into each of two mixing bowls. Then stir in half of the sugars into each bowl, mixing well. Toast your walnuts and pecans.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky.
Since it’s imprudent to try to split 3 eggs evenly, in a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the eggs to your maize meal and buttermilk. Evenly divide the wet mixture between the two dry mixtures. Add the melted butter to their respective bowls.
For the Maple, Pecan & Bacon Muffins, stir in the pecans and bacon. For the Cranberry & Walnut Muffins, stir in the cranberries and walnuts. Stir each mixture with a wooden spoon. This is your only chance to get the lumps out. When you have a smooth mixture, use a soup ladle to fill your deep muffin tins nearly to the top. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, but keep an eye on them. To test if they’re ready, insert a toothpick. If it comes out clean, you’ll know they’re done.

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