The tiny ham sandwiches you won't want to do without
My husband and I love sandwiches; the more toppings, the better. So when a friend recommended trying the mini ham sandwiches appetizer at Farmstead in St. Helena, California, we ordered them immediately.
I don't usually think of sandwiches as an appetizer, but as soon as they arrived at the table, I wished they were an entree. Warm cheddar biscuits, roughly 2 inches in diameter, spread with a layer of Fresno pepper jelly and topped with thinly sliced country ham hit all the flavor targets: salty, sweet, savory, a little spicy, warm and cheesy, with each bite leaving me wanting more. I had to have them again, and since I don't live in California, I set out to re-create them at home.
Have you ever been to Red Lobster? If you answered yes, you have probably enjoyed their Cheddar Bay Biscuits. The biscuit part of my ham sandwich reminded me so much of the Red Lobster version, both in taste and appearance.
I have made biscuits before and found after searching the internet many others had attempted to replicate Red Lobster's variety, so I tried myself. After a couple of tries, I was happy with the outcome.
It is a basic biscuit, but with the addition of cheddar cheese. I tried both medium and sharp cheddar and preferred the sharp, but warn against using extra sharp due to the lower moisture content. It may not incorporate and melt as well as the others.
The key to making tender biscuits is to not overmix the dough. This is when less is more, so try folding instead of aggressively stirring and don't be worried if the mixture looks a little under mixed.
I know we are all busy, so if you'd prefer a shortcut, Red Lobster sells their Cheddar Bay Biscuit mix on most grocer's shelves. The only difference in flavor is Red Lobster adds garlic to theirs, and I didn't to mine, but don't let this stop you from using the mix.
The next thing I had to figure out was what type of ham and pepper jelly to use.
According to an article interviewing the restaurant's chef, Farmstead uses country ham in its recipe. I admit I didn't know the difference between country ham and the variety I typically purchase at my local deli counter. According to farmflavor.com, country ham has a deep, rich and intensely salty flavor and is dry-cured over a long period. Prosciutto or speck were suggested as substitutions for country ham, so that is what I used.
What about the pepper jelly? Farmstead lists Fresno chile pepper jelly in the sandwich description on the menu, but I couldn't find any at my store, so I needed a substitute. Since there are so many peppers with as many different heat levels, I searched the internet to determine where the Fresno chile pepper, not to be confused with the Fresno Bell pepper, ranks on the Scoville Scale, learning it is similar to jalapeño.
The Scoville Scale is an excellent resource used to measure the amount of capsaicin, the chemical compound found in peppers that gives them their heat. Capsaicin is responsible for the heat you feel after eating a pepper and is measured in Scoville heat units, also known as SHU.
The number of Scoville Heat Units (SHU) in a pepper indicates the amount of capsaicin present. The higher the Scoville rating, the hotter the pepper.
I found jalapeño jelly at my local grocery store, as well as the farmers market, but if for some reason you are unsuccessful, try Trader Joe's or Stonewall Kitchen as I believe they would both be excellent in this recipe. No matter what brand you use, be sure to check the label for jalapeño peppers, as you don't want to purchase a spicier variety accidentally. I was lucky to have made some jalapeño jelly last year with peppers from my garden, so I used this on my sandwiches, but I realize you may not have any on hand.
I baked my biscuits, brushed them with a little butter, cooled and then refrigerated them in an airtight container for several days before my party. When I was ready to assemble the sandwiches, I rewarmed the biscuits by popping them into a 400-degree oven for five to 10 minutes. Once out of the oven, I carefully sliced each biscuit in half, spread the bottom with a bit of pepper jelly, a slice of ham, and the biscuit top. The sandwiches are brought to the table at the restaurant held together with small bamboo skewers, but I served mine without.
I will admit that putting these together requires patience as the biscuits are a bit fragile, but you will forget all your effort as soon as you eat one.
These were a hit, even with my family members who don't like spicy food. The cheese in the biscuits and sugar in the jelly neutralize the heat, leaving behind the flavor of the pepper.
I would be remiss if I didn't share a bit more about the wonderful restaurant where we ate these tasty sandwiches. Farmstead is part of Long Meadow Ranch.
Owned by the Hall family, Long Meadow ranch farms over 2,000 acres of grapes, olives, fruits, vegetables and pasture in three counties. We ate outside among apple and olive trees while feasting on our little sandwiches and barbecue ribs and a Dungeness crab roll with homemade potato chips. The setting was as good as the food. Be sure to check out their blog called The Beet (www.longmeadowranch.com/blog/), where they share recipes and wine information.
These are simple sandwiches when it comes to the toppings, and like the stirring of biscuits, in this case, less is more. If your experience is like mine, they will be devoured as soon as they are discovered at your party. If you have leftover pepper jelly, pour it over a block of cream cheese and then spread the combo on a Triscuit cracker, you will not be disappointed. I am almost positive you will have friends asking you for both recipes.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
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Mini Ham Sandwich Appetizers
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Topping and filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
18 -- 24 slice prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 ounces spicy pepper jelly
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper.
In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk and melted butter.
Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir gently using a rubber spatula just until moist. Do not overmix or your biscuits may be tough. Gently fold in cheese.
Place rounded tablespoons of batter (I used a cookie scoop) evenly onto prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on baking pan.
While biscuits are cooling, combine butter and parsley, and brush tops of cooling biscuits. (Biscuits can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated until ready to use. Reheat for 5-7 minutes in 400 degree oven before assembling.)
Assembling the sandwiches: While biscuits are still warm, carefully slice in half creating a top and bottom. Spread approximately 1 teaspoon pepper jelly on the bottom biscuit and top with a slice of prosciutto. Replace "top" of biscuit. Repeat with remaining biscuits and serve.
Courtesy of Penny Kazmier