It is 11am on a grey Toronto Sunday morning some weeks ago and I'm invited to the Cobbs' for brunch. The entire rear end of the Cobb house is these days swathed in construction plastic and the kitchen has been relegated to the dining room in a state that can best be described as ramshackle. Alex Cobb, barely greeting me as I enter, seems impervious to all this and I believe could exist amid construction chaos in perpetuity. With the foresight of a hardened pessimist, he's timed brunch precisely to coincide with my half hour late arrival.
What I have to hand to Alex, besides the claim to a first name that is next to impossible to say without tacking on the surname Cobb, is that (and I'm sorry for being compelled to say so, Ronni*) he's a sexy cook. You know, in the way men can be. It's in his slowness about the task. I mean, he's wearing wool socks and sandals, is hunch shouldered, sleepy eyed and laconic as all hell. But somehow it works for him in the kitchen.
It doesn't hurt that the results of his efforts are pretty darn exciting. On this day, he's created a gourmet Egg McMuffin: a piping hot homemade biscuit layered with a poached egg of the perfect consistency (outside firm but tender, middle slightly oozy), cambozola (substituted by cheddar for the kids) and prosciutto. The combination is fantastic, but the indubitable star of the sandwich is the biscuit. Salty, moist, crumbly biscuit. (I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of you, biscuit. You would have been well worth displaying on the web. Well worth.) We can't resist seconds and fleetingly fantasize about thirds, but eventually content ourselves with strawberries and cream for dessert. Even the kids approve.
Pleased with himself, and rightly so, Alex Cobb provided me with this biscuit recipe should you care to replicate the McCobb (as I like to call it):
3 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1-2 tsp salt
(No sugar, but if you insist on sugar, reduce the salt and add 1 tbsp.)
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup butter (cold)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
Mix the dry ingredients. Grate or cut in cold butter and mix with a fork or pastry cutter until the whole resembles coarse bread crumbs. Pour buttermilk into a well in the centre of the crumbly mixture. Stir until curds form. Mash down with your fists (Alex Cobb demonstrated this with vehemence; apparently, it brought him some satisfaction). Empty out onto a wooden surface. Knead until the dough holds together but is still sticky. Don't overdo it. Roll out to 1/2 to 3/4 inches of thickness. Cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter, the top of a glass, a compass, what have you. Bake on a non-stick baking sheet for 12 minutes in a 450 F oven. After cooling just a little, set on the table in a covered bamboo steamer or some other porous and mysterious container to tantalize your guests while you take care of the rest of the fixings. Keep an eye on the guests to ensure the biscuits are not compromised.
Try to enjoy while grimacing to complete the experience and make Alex Cobb proud.
*Ronni is Alex Cobb's wife. She's sexy in and out of the kitchen.