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Big Bottom Market pays tribute to its signature biscuits, one of Oprah's 'Favorite Things,' with cookbook

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Hot Off The Press

Here are some of the upcoming book signing events for “The Big Bottom Biscuit” cookbook by Michael Volpatt.

Friday, May 3: A rosé release party and book signing will be held at 6 p.m. at Big Bottom Market, 16228 Main St., Guerneville.

Saturday, May 4: A book signing will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Big Bottom Market.

Sunday, May 5: A book signing will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, 4605 Westside Road, Healdsburg.

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 today, 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 meat-laden 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.”

Hot Off The Press

Here are some of the upcoming book signing events for “The Big Bottom Biscuit” cookbook by Michael Volpatt.

Friday, May 3: A rosé release party and book signing will be held at 6 p.m. at Big Bottom Market, 16228 Main St., Guerneville.

Saturday, May 4: A book signing will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Big Bottom Market.

Sunday, May 5: A book signing will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, 4605 Westside Road, Healdsburg.

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.

“The first thing we did was make the biscuit pot pies, and those are at the market on a regular basis,” he said. “And now we make biscuit quiches.”

Volpatt dedicated his cookbook to Sue Steiner, part of the market’s original biscuit-testing team and the official “market momma.” Steiner is also the mother of one of his business partners, Crista Luedtke of Guerneville, who helped brainstorm and launch the market but later left the partnership to pursue her own projects.

In the beginning, Volpatt said, the partners envisioned the market as a handy, stop-off place for locals and tourists alike as well as a community center of sorts for the Russian River community.

“We wanted a grab ‘n’ go place, but higher end that had unique sandwiches made from locally sourced meats, and a selection of beverages and great wine that was local,” he said. “And then a market where you can buy jams and sundries and chips and cheese.”

Through partnerships with Thomas George Estates in Healdsburg and Taft Street Winery in Graton, Volpatt has launched three wine labels for the market: Market Reserve, which makes a grenache and chardonnay, with $1 of every bottle sale going to the Sonoma County Land Trust; a “b” label zinfandel, sauvignon blanc and sparkling, with $1 of every bottle going to the Friends of Guerneville School; and a new “b” label rosé, with $1 of every bottle going to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity and street performance organization in Guerneville that calls attention to sexual intolerance.

Meanwhile, with the help of distribution partner Zoe’s Meats of Petaluma, Volpatt has found a company to revamp his biscuit mix to meet customer demand. The mix has been retooled as a just-add-water product that is easier to make than the original mix, which called for buttermilk and heavy cream.

“They bake up a little differently, but the flavor profile is perfect,” he said. “They are 98 percent the same.”

This spring, Volpatt hopes to expand his Big Bottom Market product line to include a few different flavors of jam. Starting this month, the Big Bottom Market cookbook, biscuit mix and the orange blossom honey will also be available in a bundle from etsy.com.

“We can’t keep the mix on the shelves at the market because people are buying the experience of the market to take home with them,” he said. “We feel like the same thing will happen with the book.”

The Original Big Bottom Biscuit

Makes 9 biscuits

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour

1/8 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup shortening

1 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup heavy cream

2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and coat an 8x8-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Place the self-rising flour, sugar, salt, honey and shortening in a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, blend the ingredients until the shortening is well combined and the mixture looks like small peas.

Add in the buttermilk and cream and stir with a spatula until fully combined. The dough will look wet, and you may think there’s not enough flour, but it’s actually the wetness of the dough that makes the Big Bottom Market biscuit so moist and delicious.

Place the all-purpose flour in a medium-size mixing bowl. Use an ice-cream scoop to place one ball of wet dough into the flour. Toss the ball around so the flour coats the dough and then place it into the baking pan. Do this until all of the dough is gone, being sure to nest the biscuits one next to the other so that they all just barely touch in the pan.

Bake for 20 minutes on the top rack. After 20 minutes, turn the pan 180 degrees and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.

After 5 minutes, check for doneness with a toothpick. If it comes out clean and the tops are golden brown, your biscuits are ready.

If not, bake for up to an additional 5 minutes and check again. Every oven is different so baking times may vary.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

_____

Honey Avocado Butter

Makes about 20 pats of butter

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/4 cup Big Bottom Market Orange Blossom Honey or your favorite local honey

1 ripe avocado

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Cut the butter into chunks.

Place the butter into a standing mixer with a whisk attachment and beat at low speed. Add the honey, avocado, lemon juice (which will keep the avocado from browning), and salt and beat until well combined, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove the butter from the bowl and spoon onto parchment paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a log and refrigerate for 2 hours or until the butter can be sliced into pieces. When ready, slice into 1/4-inch pieces.

_____

“My mother made strawberry jam in the summertime when they were their sweetest. I was always fascinated by the process and the amount that she would make,” Volpatt writes. “It lasted in the freezer all year long.”

Simple Strawberry Jam

Makes 2 cups

4 cups fresh strawberries

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Process the strawberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Then put the chopped strawberries in a sauté pan over medium heat and add in the sugar, honey and lemon juice. Stir continuously and cook until the jam is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and store in a large, airtight jar or container. Cool in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. As the jam cools it will thicken even more. The jam will last in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Note: For this recipe I like to buy fresh strawberries and freeze them before chopping them up in the food processor. They should chop easily and evenly.

_____

Biscuit Pie Crust

Makes 1 crust

4 to 5 cups biscuit dust (see note below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 1/2-inch baking pan or pie plate with cooking spray.

Pour the biscuit dust into the baking pan or pie plate. You can also use a large bowl and your hands to break up the biscuits into tiny little pieces. Using your fingers, press the biscuits into the bottom and sides of the pan until all areas are covered.

Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Your biscuit pie crust is ready.

Note on how to make biscuit dust: If you have leftover biscuits, make sure to wrap them securely in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. Your leftover biscuits will last about three months in the freezer.

When ready to use, pull out of the freezer and turn them into what we at the market call biscuit dust. Biscuit dust is the base for all of our pies, tarts, quiches and pot pies.

To make your dust, let biscuits thaw if needed. Crumble about four to five into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until completely and uniformly pulverized. Voila. You’ll have about 4 cups of biscuit dust and are now ready to get cooking.

To store biscuit dust, put into a large, sealable bag or airtight container and place in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

_____

“We realize that not everyone can forage for mushrooms, but you can forage at your local gourmet grocery store for your favorite kinds,” Volpatt writes. “For this recipe, choose the type that you love best. Cremini, shiitake, chanterelle — the options are endless. If you do decide to forage for mushrooms, make sure you take someone who knows what to look for.”

Foraged Mushroom Biscuit Quiche

Makes 6 to 8 slices

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 sweet yellow onion, chopped

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups chopped mushrooms (a mix or a favorite works well)

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

8 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 Biscuit Pie Crust (recipe above), fully baked and cooled

Place the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the garlic and onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add in the wine and mushrooms and continue to sauté until the wine has cooked down all the way. Add in the tomatoes and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Set aside and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes and then add in the cheese, eggs, salt and pepper and stir until well mixed.

Pour into the crust and bake for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown; when a toothpick comes out clean your quiche is done. If it doesn’t come out clean, leave the quiche in the oven for a few more minutes and test again.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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