There has always been an air of southern hospitality about the White House, situated as it is below the Mason-Dixon line. It’s reflected in the sumptuous afternoon reception buffets offered to guests, and one of the classic foods for those events is a good old-fashioned ham biscuit. There are many ways to make a great biscuit, but for this particular recipe I prefer those that are made without baking powder, so that the biscuits don’t raise too much. You wouldn’t want your ham biscuit to end up 90% biscuit and 10% ham because the biscuit grew to be four inches high in the oven. I also prefer a biscuit that is not too flavorful itself, so that the other ingredients can shine. That’s why a cream biscuit, such as the recipe below, is the perfect base for the real star of the show: the ham.
The type of ham used in a biscuit is important: a dry salt-cured ham is very different from a spiral cut, sugar-cured ham, so the condiments have to be adjusted accordingly. Regional tastes differ; I remember my mother biting into a Smithfield ham biscuit once and spitting it into her napkin, so unaccustomed was she to the taste. She’d only eaten Midwestern honey or sugar-baked hams, and for her the salty flavor was too strong. Of course I love them both, but I split the difference with this recipe and used a Black Forest uncured fully-cooked ham, which doesn’t take long to bake and tends to be more sweet than salty. The blackberry honey butter compliments this sweeter ham and creamy biscuit, and is just the sort of thing you might encounter in the State Dining Room on a lovely afternoon in June. Enjoy!
Prep time: 20 minutes for the biscuits, one hour for the ham, 10 minutes for the blackberry honey butter
Serves: makes a dozen medium-sized biscuits
For the biscuits:
- 4 cups self-rising flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 3 cups heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
- Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl and stir in cream to make a wet dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and press the dough out until it’s about ½ inch thick.
- You will need to add flour to your fingers to keep them from sticking to the dough.
- Cut rounds of dough with a biscuit cutter (I used three sizes: 2 inch, 3 inch and 4 inch, so guests could choose among several different sies.) and place on a Silpat-covered baking sheet.
- Press dough scraps back together to cut more biscuits, but try not to overwork the dough, and try not to twist the cutter when pressing down on the dough – both things will make the dough tough.
- Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.
- Brush tops of biscuits again with melted butter after taking them out of the oven, and allow to cool.
For the ham:
- 1 three-pound ham
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)
- In a baking dish, place ham cut in half and face down and pour sherry over ham, if you are using sherry.
- Sprinkle brown sugar over ham and cover with aluminum foil or pot lid.
- I prefer a sugar-cured ham, rather than a salty one, but that is a matter of personal preference.
- Bake the ham for one hour at 325 degrees.
- Allow ham to cool and slice into small pieces, trimming off any fat or gristle.
For the blackberry honey butter:
- 1 stick (4 ounces) butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 cup blackberries
- Mix butter, honey and blackberries in a food processor or blender until well-combined.
- Split biscuits and pile ham onto lower half of biscuit. Slather top of ham with blackberry honey butter, replace top of biscuit and serve.