Big Bottom Market pays tribute to its signature biscuits, one of Oprah's 'Favorite Things,' with cookbook
Smothered with honey butter or strawberry jam, the light and fluffy Southern biscuit has reached new heights … again.
Originating in the Middle Ages as a hard, dry creation - “biscuit” is Latin for “bread cooked twice” - it remained a tough, flat concoction for centuries, favored by sailors and other military personnel for subsistence.
But in the 19th century, the development of leavening agents allowed the lowly biscuit to rise to its full potential. Eventually, the flaky, scone-like biscuit was smothered in sausage gravy, transforming itself into the breakfast classic beloved in the South.
Now, from Washington, D.C., to the West Coast, American foodies are rediscovering the crisp crust and tender crumb of biscuits, which bring back homey memories of momma’s oven mitts and grandma’s flour scoop while slathering them up with modern toppings like goat cheese and fig jam.
At Big Bottom Market in Guerneville, opened by Michael Volpatt in 2011, a “wet biscuit” recipe shared by a friend became the market’s signature bite right out of the gate.
“We tried a number of biscuit recipes, and in most cases, they were just dense, and they weren’t fluffy,” he said. “Then we found this wet biscuit recipe, and it was the most flavorful and unctuous biscuit that we got our hands on.”
When the market launched, it just served a plain biscuit and a Cheddar thyme biscuit in the morning, then its cooks started experimenting with sweet and savory versions baked in muffin tins.
Eventually, they developed a line of “specialty” biscuits that include The Sea Biscuit (filled with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and capers) and the Egg in a Biscuit, a take-off on the classic Scotch Egg.
“A lot of the recipes in the book are recipes that we make on a rotating basis,” Volpatt said. “We have to make a plain biscuit every single day, and then we ask our cooks to be creative and make what they think is going to be good.”
The Guerneville market and café vaulted to national fame after Oprah named the Big Bottom Market Biscuit Mix and California Wildflower Honey package as one of her Favorite Things in 2016.
That gave Volpatt, a PR guy looking to optimize his lowly biscuit’s rise to fame, the impetus to shop around a biscuit cookbook that would also highlight “the things that surround biscuits and taste good with them.”
“I’ve always wanted to write a cookbook,” he said. “The minute those doors opened up, I thought, OK, what is this cookbook going to look like?”
After hitting a few dead ends, Volpatt got an agent and his cookbook was accepted in November of 2017. The little biscuit book that could - “The Big Bottom Biscuit” (Running Press, 2019) - was released April 30, and Volpatt is busy this spring promoting it with a series of book signings and tasting events (see sidebar for details).
The small-format, hardback cookbook includes 50 recipes for specialty biscuits and spreads, plus dinner entrees that Volpatt developed after launching the market’s Wednesday Night Community Dinners more than a year ago. These include everything from vegetable dishes like Market Vegan Marsala to poultry entrees such as Moroccan Chicken.
“It was a way to utilize our space at night, and a way for me to flex my creativity and my love of cooking,” he said. “Once we got the book deal, I had to make a lot of food, so I decided to use these dinners to test these recipes and get feedback from people.”
Some of the more unusual biscuit recipes in the book include the Chocolate Bacon Biscuit, topped with chocolate sauce; the Biscuit BLT slathered with Lemon Garlic Aioli; and the S’mores Biscuit, incorporating graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate chips.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book explains how to host your own “biscuit bar” party, which grew out of a catering Volpatt did for his cousin’s wedding.
“We had just opened the market, and I did a brunch for her the day after the wedding,” he said. “People loved it.”
The idea of a biscuit bar is to create a buffet with a wide range of your favorite toppings and condiments. That usually looks like e a platter with smoked salmon and all the fixings, ceramic pots with two or three flavored butters and two or three jams, plus a jar of local honey.
For brunch, a fruit salad, a bowl of yogurt and some homemade granola can round out the buffet nicely, along with fresh juices, sparkling water and some well-chilled sparkling wine to wash it all down.
Growing up in an Italian family in Pittsburgh, Volpatt not only learned how to cook but how to make thrifty use of leftovers. Using the market’s leftover biscuits, he developed a recipe for Biscuit Dust that uses crumbled up whole biscuits and repurposes them as a delicious crust for all kinds of savory and sweet pies.