Over the past few years, the baked goods have changed from a rarity in Seattle to a starring role.
GREAT BISCUITS are typically a challenge to master, a process leavened by family history as much as self-rising flour.
Over the past few years, the baked goods have changed from a rarity in Seattle to a starring role. Despite the lack of a longstanding tradition, the city now features restaurants from Serious Pie & Biscuit to Honest Biscuits, from Biscuit Bitch to Biscuit Box. Still, it was quite a test when coffee-shop owner Kekoa Chin-Hidano asked chef friend Domingo Ramos if Ramos could come up with a biscuit recipe for Morsel, the shop Chin-Hidano planned to open in the University District. Morsel was located in the former home of Nook, a popular biscuit spot whose owner sold the location but not the recipe.
Ramos asked his friend how long they had to develop the recipe. The reply: “Two weeks.”
Meeting a challenge was nothing new for Ramos, who said he got his first job at age 13, working under the table at a pizza joint.
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Watching his mom and grandmother prepare family meals taught him from an early age that he wanted a career in restaurants.
“The ability to cook a big meal and bring everyone together . . . it felt great to me,” he said.
Ramos, a Roosevelt High School graduate, learned a lot about the culinary world at North Seattle College — not as a student, but as a dishwasher picking up skills from the cooks. He moved on to work as many as three restaurant jobs at a time, refining his technique while cooking at Campagne, and learning business management skills during his years as sous chef at Joey’s. A stint cooking in Google’s Fremont offices had allowed him a generous budget to develop recipes and a rare level of creative freedom.
Biscuits, he figured, he could do.
“It’s a quick bread. It’s easy. It’s something I should be able to figure out,” he thought.
It took every minute the two weeks held, working from a photo of the old Nook biscuits. Ramos tweaked the ratio of buttermilk in his test recipe, baked batches with incrementally different amounts of baking powder or baking soda, varied his dough-folding techniques, and experimented with ways to create the rugged tops he wanted in the final version. (Roughing up the top surface of the dough with his hands did the trick.)
The mountainous final biscuit, crisp all around and fluffy inside, was a hit, especially made into sandwiches with fixings like Ramos’ house-made tomato jam. His most popular version, named one of Seattle’s top sandwiches in various surveys, is the Spanish Fly, including prosciutto, a fried egg, manchego cheese, arugula and pepper aioli.
“It was just what I loved to eat for a breakfast sandwich,” Ramos said.
Ramos became a co-owner of the business, which has since expanded to Ballard. Staffers bake 30 dozen biscuits fresh on weekend mornings, and the owners are looking at more outlets, maybe a wholesale business, or a restaurant with a bigger menu. For now, though, Ramos loves being behind the register and on the line, handing people food that he made himself and watching them enjoy it.
Sometimes people tell him that his biscuits aren’t true Southern biscuits, the sort made with White Lily flour, with techniques handed down through the generations. That’s OK.
“I’m not claiming to be a Southern-style biscuit,” he said.
The baked goods, like the baker, are Northwest originals.
Biscuit baking advice:
Biscuit-lovers tend to have strict guidelines for what makes them great. Ramos’ versions don’t always align with the classics, but here’s advice for making them the way he does:
1. He uses all-purpose flour rather than self-rising or cake flour or other versions. He uses Morbread flour by Pendleton Flour Mills.
2. While some recipes call for lard, Ramos uses salted butter, in part to keep the biscuits vegetarian. “More butter, more better!” he said.
3. It’s key to keep ingredients cold. Chill flour in the refrigerator before using it, and work quickly.