I’ve been thinking for weeks now about sharing my biscuit recipe. Biscuits are one of the quintessential Southern foods, and it shouldn’t be necessary to say that a good biscuit should be part of any cook’s repertoire. They’re also a particular obsession of mine: with the possible exception of pizza, I have spent more time working on biscuits than any other single item I cook.
But I’ve neglected the biscuit recipe, both because I’ve had other Web site work to attend to, and because I think of biscuits as weekend food. Nobody really wants to read about light, fluffy, decadent biscuits during the middle of the week. Then Friday rolls around, and I’ve again posted nothing.
And yet, the blog craves sustenance. So biscuits it is. Midweek and all.
(Adapted, liberally, from Emeril Lagasse’s Traditional Southern Biscuits with nods to every biscuit recipe I made to get here. Seriously, this has been a ten-year project.)
2 cups all purpose flour,* plus extra for shaping the biscuits
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening or lard, very cold, cut into quarter-inch cubes
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold, cut into quarter-inch pieces, plus about 3 tsp extra for buttering the pan and the tops
1 cup buttermilk, very cold
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar to mix and aerate the flour.
- With your hands, incorporate the shortening and the butter. Work quickly, with your fingertips. Your goal here is to wind up with a mixture that has little pieces of flattened fat about the size of a pea. Some pieces smaller. Don’t go crazy here, as your hands will heat up the shortening and butter, but get it all incorporated.
- Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour the buttermilk into the well all at once. With a spoon or spatula or other similar flat implement, bring the flour from the sides of the bowl into the center, turning the bowl as you go. Here, you want to mix as little as possible while still combining the ingredients into a cohesive mass. After about 20 strokes, you should have a rough ball of dough.
- Dust the counter liberally with flour. Pour the mass out onto the flour. Add more flour to the top of the mass and dust your hands with flour. Using your hands, gently shape and press the mound into an area about ten inches square. You’re looking for about a quarter-inch thick layer of dough.
- Using a dough scraper, fold the dough into thirds, like a letter. Then fold it into thirds in the opposite direction so you have a square. Flip it, press it down, and repeat the folding once more. Add flour as necessary, but the wetter you can leave the dough, the better the biscuit.
- After the second folding, shape the square of dough into Cut the biscuits with a cutter by pressing straight down and then turning. Once you’ve cut all you can, gather the scraps together and repeat the folding process then cut a few more biscuits. The last little bit of dough can be shaped into one last biscuit. A two inch cutter will yield about 10 biscuits.
- Melt a couple tablespoons of butter and use it to coat the bottom of your biscuit pan. I use a 9″ cake pan, for now.
- Place the biscuits in the pan. You can squeeze them together if need be. Just remember that biscuits will rise higher if they’re touching each other. Don’t try to separate them.
- Preheat the oven to 425°. Be sure the rack is in the middle of the oven.
- Brush the tops of the biscuits with another tablespoon or so of melted butter. Cover the biscuits and let them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and brush with more melted butter, if desired. Serve hot (yes, with more butter).
* A note about flour. In the South, we tend to use lower-protein flour such as White Lily for biscuits and cakes. Low-protein flours lead to more tender baked goods. But I’ve used King Arthur All Purpose Flour in this recipe with excellent results. You should try to use an unbleached all purpose flour, and you should avoid self-rising flour for this recipe.