Biscuits · Breads and Crackers

Gateaux au Poivre (Pepper Cakes, or Pepper Biscuits)

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Ooooh, are these addictive! 

I first made these about fifteen years ago, and I think it was then that I "discovered" black pepper.  I know.  Sounds goofy.  But until then, to me, pepper was just…salt's straight man.  Salt was the star, Pepper was the supporting actor.  They were always together, but Salt had the top billing, you know? 

Anyway, I don't make pepper biscuits all that often, for the simple reason that I lack self control and I tend to eat these like other people eat potato chips.  I can't stop.  Just make a batch, and you'll see what I mean.

The recipe comes from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, a fabulous volume that I highly recommend to anyone who loves bread baking.

They're a bit tricky to make, but well worth the sweating and swearing.  Besides, no matter how they look, they'll be wonderful to eat.

And – just a warning – I took a LOT of pictures when I made these.  So go grab a cup of tea and a snack and settle in.

Okay?  All set?  Comfy?  Here we go. 

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Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

1 level teaspoon dry yeast

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (I add a few grinds more)

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup hot water (120-130 degrees F)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1 egg or egg yolk, beaten, mixed with 1 teaspoon water (I add a pinch of salt; it helps break down the proteins and makes it less stringy when you brush it on the biscuits)

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You'll need a couple of baking sheets lined with parchment.  Get them ready and set aside.

By Hand or Mixer:

In a large mixing or mixer bowl measure 1 1/2 cups flour and the dry ingredients. 

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Pour in the water and mix by hand for 50 strokes or with the mixer flat beater for 1 minute to thoroughly blend the ingredients. 

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Crop in the butter pieces and work them into the flour until they are completely absorbed.

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Add flour (about 1 cup) until the dough forms a smooth, buttery mass.

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Kneading:

If by hand, turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead. 

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It will be an easy task because of its high butter content, but if it seems too moist or too sticky, toss down several liberal sprinlkes of flour and work them in. 

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(Thanks, Julia!)

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If using the mixer, attach the dough hook, and add small portions of flour if the dough sticks to the bowl.  Knead for 5 minutes.

Preheat:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  (This dough goes directly into the oven after shaping so whatever leavening effect there is takes place in the oven.  A vigorous rising might tear the delicate wreaths apart.)

* (Okay, now here's where my brain slipped out of my ear, apparently, and rolled under the china cabinet in the kitchen.  I glanced down at the book, to double-check the oven temp, and I read "Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to double in volume at room temperature, about 1 hour."  So I did that.  Because I haven't made this recipe in years, and I was, like I said, without a brain momentarily.  It wasn't until that hour was up (and the dough hadn't done much of anything besides rest) that I realized the page in the book had flipped over and I was reading instructions from a different recipe.  DuhFortunately, the small amount of yeast hadn't caused any "vigorous rising," and I was able to proceed without mishap.)

Shaping:

The dough will weigh about 1 1/2 pounds.  Divide it into 6 or 8 pieces. 

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Roll each piece into a rough cylinder.  Lay both hands on the center of the roll and move the dough back and forth across the work surface–slowly spreading your hands apart to make the roll longer and thinner.  But don't force the dough to spread because it may tear.  Be firm when you push down on the roll with the hands.  You can't collapse it.

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When one strand seems to be resisting, move on to another.  Return to the first and continue the motion.  When the strand gets so long that the ends get tangled (more than 18") cut in half.  Presumably the strand will be as thin as, if not thinner than, a pencil.  If not, continue rolling under your palms.

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(This was from my first round of rolling out dough strands.  I improved in later rounds.)

Twist 2 slender strands together. 

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The double strand will try to unwind when you lay it down, so press the ends to the work surface until they relax in the twisted position.  Go on to the next pair.

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When all the strands have been paired, hold the tip of your index finger against the work surface.  Wrap the dough around your finger to form a small wreath.  Allow enough additional length so that the ends can be pinched together (about 5" overall) and cut with a knife or scissors.  Make certain the strands don't untwist before overlappping and pinching together.  Place on the baking sheet 1/2" apart. 

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Repeat for all the double strands. 

(Now, I didn't exactly follow directions.  I made other shapes besides the little wreaths.  For example:)

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I made little braids, too, with this first batch. 

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When all gateaux have been made, brush with the egg-water glaze. 

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For an extra pappery taste, sprinkle a bit of ground pepper over the glaze.  (Yes – definitely do this!)

Baking:

Move the sheet directly to the hot oven–no rest period or rising (unless your brain falls out again and rolls under the furniture).  Look at the cakes after 15 minutes.  If those along the outside edges of the sheet are browning too quickly, push them to the center and move the center cakes to the outside.  The cakes will bake dry with little moisture left in them.

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Final Step:

Remove from the oven and let cool on a metal rack.

They will remain fresh for several weeks in an airtight container.  Or they will freeze nicely for several months.

~~~

And you'd think that would be the end of my post, wouldn't you? 

HAHAHAHAHAHA!  Well, you'd be wrong, then.  Unless you just want to leave.  I mean, you can.  But…well, I have so much more to share!  (I'm kind of sleep deprived and needy at the moment – please stay!)

I played around with some of the other dough, too, and if you're interested, you can keep scrolling down to see the pictures.  Come on, it's fun!

First of all, I want to show you the thinner strand of dough I managed to achieve at some point during all of this.  Trust me, no one was more surprised then I was.

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So, it CAN be done – just be patient.  And firm with the dough.  You are the boss of the dough, not the other way around.

Anyway, onto the playing around…

First, I just tried other shapes.  I did this…

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And I made things like this…

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And this…

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And then, with another portion of the dough, I tried something else.  I rolled the dough out a bit and grated some parmesan cheese onto it.

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Then I rolled it up, pinching the edges together…

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And then I cut it apart into about 4 pieces and started rolling the pieces into thin strands…

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I rolled these out thin, like a pencil, and placed them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brushed them with the egg wash, and then grated more parmesan on top.

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(Yep, that's the November banner)

Now, while I was doing that, I was also baking some of the other pepper biscuits that I'd already rolled out and shaped.  Once they'd cooled a bit, I had to break one open and see how they'd turned out…

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Perfect – see how they're nice and dry and crispy?

Here's a closer look.

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Need an even better look?  Of course you do!

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Okay, back to the shapes.

So I baked the cheesy ones, but I should have cooked them a bit longer than I did.  They weren't as crisp as they should have been, but I was worried about burning the cheese.  Shouldn't have worried.  Should have baked a few more minutes.  Ah well, that's what next times are for.

Continuing on…I was thinking that some might be nice with a little salt garnish…so I made these little guys…

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Just rolled tiny little balls, about the size of a penny or nickel in diameter…

I flattened them slightly with a fork (I thought it would help keep the sea salt I was going to use from rolling off.  Sometimes I don't know what my brain is thinking.  Or maybe it was still under the china cabinet…) and brushed them all with the egg wash.

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And then I sprinkled them with a blend of two different sea salts – the white one is a French gray sea salt, and the black one is from Cypress. 

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I love the black salt.  It just looks so cool.  And it's kind of a visual gag, too – you'd think there would be salt and pepper on something, but no, it's salt and salt.  The pepper's on the inside.

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 Some of the black salt flakes are these lovely little pyramids.

~~~

Okay, those were all the different ways I played with this dough.  Or most of them.  This last batch of photos are of the various finished products.  

And then I'll shut up.  I think.

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 Yup, I'm done. 

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