Most American households have biscuits or rolls with dinner, but my family never really had that as a custom. Of course we did have bread available for those who wanted it, but I was never really a bread person. Though I do love a good slice of crusty French bread, I never eat bread with dinner. I do, however, love the Hungarian version of biscuits, pogácsa (po-gah-cha), which are like savory scones enjoyed more as an appetizer than a side dish to dinner. Traditionally, pogácsa are enjoyed with beer or a glass of wine. But they also go well with most cocktails, including the dry or bitters-based ones made with gin, whiskey, or vodka. They are perfect for a holiday cocktails party with friends.
Pogácsa are typically made of short dough or sometimes yeast dough. The name is rooted in the Latin panis focacius, which means bread baked on a hearth. The breads, Italian focaccia and French fougasse also share the same Latin root. Slovakia and Turkey have recipes for pogácsa that are similar to the Hungarian variety. But in my opinion there are no more flavorful biscuits than pogácsa, which are traditionally made with pork crackling, bacon fat, or lard. Some recipes for pogácsa are made with grated cheese and butter. These are some of the best you will ever taste. In Hungary or, if you're lucky, at your local Hungarian meat market like the one in New York, you can purchase pogácsa. Butchers bake a pretty good batch. My mom's recipe was what I grew up on, but now I continue the tradition with my own rendition for the bar-snack favorite.
The thing with biscuits and their cousins, scones, is that they are super easy to make in mere minutes. You're all set as long as you have some fat on hand. I always have leftover bacon fat from Saturday morning breakfasts. Pogácsa can be flavored with many different spices, such as ground caraway or hot paprika. I like to flavor mine with lots of pepper. As a lover of all things peppery, I keep a jar of each kind of peppercorn on my spice rack. For a colorful holiday rendition, I use pink and green peppercorns, which have more of a fruity flavor than black peppercorns. Lots of salt is also a must in pogácsa, plus a sprinkling of course salt just as the biscuits go in the oven isn't a bad idea either.
Pink and Green Peppercorn Biscuits
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cracked pink peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons cracked green peppercorns
1 cup cold bacon fat or lard
1 cup sour cream
1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash
coarse salt, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cracked peppers in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the fat until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Fold in the sour cream.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured board and knead just until the dough comes together. Pat into a rectangle and roll to 1/2-inch thick.
Cut rounds using a 2-inch biscuit cutter and place an inch apart on baking sheets. Reroll scraps and cut out remaining rounds. Using a sharp knife or razor blade, draw crosshatches on the biscuit tops. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Yield: 30 biscuits.