I made these biscuits somewhat successfully for 10 years before they totally flopped on me.
That’s not entirely fair–the recipe is awesome–it turns out I was having user-interface problems. One day I made them and they just sat there. On the pan. In the oven. Baking, but not performing. They were flat, dense, ugly, yuk! I thought for certain it was the baking powder failing me, but I write the date on each can as I open it, and mine was fresh. I was so frustrated at the capriciousness of the biscuits that had worked fine up until now, that I started ‘kitchin-cussin’. You know, where you start mumbling nonsensically and throwing things around, then raising your voice to a higher pitch until someone (the Chef) comes in to investigate. I vented a bit about my biscuit troubles and showed him my substandard product.
He proceeded to (in about 5 minutes flat) produce beautifully cut little circles that baked to perfection using the exact same ingredients I had just pulled from.
This is the day I learned some things about biscuit makin’:
1. I already knew about the importance of fresh baking powder. Very. Only buy the size of can that you will use within 3 months. I know they say it lasts for 6. They lie.
2. Do Not Over Work Your Dough. Apparently I was taking out some issues on the biscuits that night, and mixed them a little too good. A light touch is essential. This will come with practice, but it really isn’t difficult at all.
3. Roll them outthick. Leaveners can only do so much, and I was expecting miracles as I rolled my dough to a whopping 1/2 inch. You are better off getting less yield, and nicer biscuits, so stop at 1 inch! And by rolling, I really mean using your hands to gather/pat the dough together so it can be cut out. Don’t take a rolling pin and treat it like cookie dough. If you use a pin at all, use it to even out the top some. This dough is so soft and fluffy that any serious rolling will ruin your texture, thus giving you hockey-pucks.
4. Cut with something sharp. Like actual biscuit cutters. I know grandma always used her favorite coffee cup and had fabulous results, but unless you inherited that exact same coffee cup, you should buy something suitably sharp. Using something with a thick, dull edge can compress the edges of your biscuit making it unable to rise properly. A nice, sharp cut will give you maximum height. Oh, and when you are done cutting the first round, Do Not gather the scraps up into a ball and start over. Just pull them together like puzzle pieces, fitting and lightly pressing them together to make another disc to cut, repeating until all your dough is used up. The end biscuits will not be as perfectly attractive, but they will still be as delicious as the first cut.
So, the biscuits I had been making for years were really not as good as I thought they were. I had never eaten homemade biscuits growing up. I didn’t know what they were supposed to be. I was satisfied with what I had, but when you know better, you do better. And now I have a higher standard thanks to a little well placed advice. I’m just passing it on now to you.
Go. Bake. Enjoy. And don’t stop at jam or honey. These biscuits are perfect with sausage or chicken gravy!
Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
makes 18 to 20 biscuits
4 cups all purpose flour
8 teaspoons fresh baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup shortening–either cut the shortening into 1/2-inch cubes if using sticks, or pinch bits off into the flour when the time comes to incorporate
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients, then make a well in the middle of the flour, and set aside. (by ‘well’ I mean an indentation about the size of a large orange–make your flour look like a volcano)
Beat the two eggs and add to the milk. Mix together and set aside.
Add the shortening (that you have cut into small cubes –or– pinched off into bits) to the flour in the large bowl.
Cut in the shortening using either your hands, two knives, food processor, or a pastry blender.
**Cutting in involves incorporating a solid fat like butter or shortening into a flour until only little solid bits remain. How much cutting in you do depends on the recipe. The bits of fat left melt, leaving behind small pockets of air that separate the pastry into layers. This is what adds to the flakiness of the pastry you are making. For these biscuits, I use a pastry blender and, using a rocking motion, chop the shortening up with the flour until the bits of shortening left are a bout the size of a very small pea.**
Add the milk/egg mixture to the middle of the flour/shortening mixture and gently mix the two with your hands. Use a scooping motion to bring the flour from the edges into the middle where the liquid is. Mix just until the mixture comes together enough to pat out on a table. It might seem like a loose mixture, but you don’t want to over mix the dough.
On a floured surface, pour out the dough and, using your hands, gently pat it together into a disc about 1 inch thick.
Cut the biscuits and place on a baking sheet that is either lightly sprayed with cooking spray, or is lined with a silpat. 12 biscuits to a sheet.
Bake 10-15 minutes, until risen and golden brown on the tops. The time for this really does vary according to your oven, so just watch carefully for the browning to know when they are done.