When I was growing up, biscuits were on our breakfast table every single day.Coming from humble beginnings, we didn’t have lots of money, a fancy car or a big house but we did have a love and sense of family that no amount of money could ever buy. Back then, folks bought flour in twenty-five pound flour sacks, so biscuits and dumplings and such were a great way to make a meager meal more filling for the entire family. Oftentimes, breakfast for us consisted of biscuits and gravy made using some bacon grease for seasoning. Mother would fry one piece of bacon to get enough grease to make the gravy. She made a simple roux with the grease and flour, added water until she had the consistency she wanted and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Daddy always got the bacon since he worked hard in the coal mines. Sometimes we would just have biscuits and syrup (always Golden Eagle). My brother and I would take our finger and punch a hole in the side of the biscuit and Mother or Daddy would pour the syrup in the hole.
Biscuits are made with so few ingredients, the quality of each is of utmost importance. So be careful about the flour (White Lily recommended) and shortening (Crisco vegetable shortening recommended).
Grate the butter on a box grater for evenly cutting in fat. One must work the dough in such a way that each grain of flour is encased in fat. This reduces the amount of liquid that makes its way into the flour, which activates less gluten. Keeping the flour and the fat cold until mixing time also inhibits gluten development.
A fine biscuit is not the sort of thing that one can learn on the run. Tender biscuits are the result of a particular touch, and acquiring it demands practice. The more often you make biscuits, the better you will get. You will become familiar with how the dough should feel, how much fat and liquid you need, and how much you should handle the dough.
When I was making biscuits on a regular basis, I knew exactly how many scoops of flour to the number of tablespoons of fat I needed to make a certain number of biscuits.
During the summer I would go to my Aunt Dot’s house and stay for a couple of weeks to play with my cousins Lena and Gladys. They lived way up in the country in Kemper County and there was a gravel drive leading to their house. Of course being little, we thought the drive was very long and a great place to have a picnic. We would take a cold biscuit, cut it in half and place a slice of white onion in the middle – yummy, an onion sandwich. That was our picnic lunch and we sure enjoyed it. I don’t think we would have enjoyed a fancy sandwich as much. Remember the definition of a biscuit is a vessel for just about anything.
My six tips for making biscuits are:
1. Use a soft-wheat flour (White Lily recommended).
2. Use a combination of solid shortening and butter.
3. Make sure butter is frozen and flour, shortening and buttermilk is very cold.
4. Don’t overwork the dough.
5. Bake in a very hot oven.
6. Brush tops with oil or melted butter for golden brown color.
2 cups all-purpose flour (White Lily recommended)*
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kitchen (table) salt
1/4 cup frozen unsalted butter
1/4 cup very cold vegetable shortening (Crisco recommended)
1 cup very cold buttermilk
*If you prefer to use self-rising flour, omit the leavening ingredients (baking powder, baking soda and salt)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to combine.
3. Grate frozen butter on the large hole side of a box grater. I recommend leaving the paper on the the portion of butter you aren’t using so that your hands do not melt the butter as you grate it.
4. Work butter and shortening into the flour mixture with the tips of your fingers until it resembles coarse to fine crumbs.
5. With a fork, briskly stir in buttermilk, just until thoroughly incorporated. You will have a wet, sticky dough.
6. Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and sprinkle top with a little flour. With floured-hands, knead dough 5 to 6 times, sprinkling with more flour as needed.
7. Roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness.
8. Fold dough in thirds, lengthwise, making sure the width is at least 3-inches. Fold in half from top to bottom and gently press layers together.
9. Cut biscuits with a 3-inch biscuit cutter.* Place on baking sheet** and brush tops with melted butter or vegetable/canola oil.
10. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
*At this point, biscuits can be frozen. Place the cut biscuit rounds on a flat surface, and freeze. Transfer to a zip-top plastic bag once they’re firm. Add 5 to 8 minutes to the bake time.
**Bake in a cast-iron skillet spread with a little butter for a crunchy-bottomed biscuit.
Yield: 8 to 10 (3-inch) biscuits
Variations: Stir in 1/2-cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and 2 teaspoons fresh coarsely ground black pepper into dry ingredients. Proceed was directed.
Stir in 2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or herb of choice or combination of herbs) into dry ingredients. Proceed as directed.
Stir in 4 tablespoons drained dill pickle relish into buttermilk before adding to flour mixture. Proceed as directed. (Makes an excellent ham sandwich with mustard)
Add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar to the flour mixture, and replace the buttermilk with heavy cream for a sweet shortcake biscuit.
NOTE: Now that you have baked a perfect biscuit, don’t smush it when you split it. Here’s a tried-and-true trick: gently spear the biscuit all the way around the edge with a fork. You’ll end up with a clean split and an even surface that begs for a pat of butter or a spoonful of jelly/jam.