It’s a bit presumptuous for a Yankee like me to write about biscuits in a Southern magazine, but I’m not going to let that scare me. I’m in a biscuit-baking frame of mind these days, and I’ve got the fanaticism of the newcomer on my side. My 12-year-old son ate five at breakfast this weekend. Even my dad, who’s really trying to lay off the carbs, succumbed. And those were my B-game biscuits. What more do you need to know?
Some of you don’t need to know anything. You have the biscuit thing down. You learned to make them at your Mee-Maw’s side. Or you’re perfectly happy with the Pillsbury Dough Boy, thanks very much. But if you’re a biscuit lover with a tiny willingness to entertain new ideas and a kid or two who might reward your curiosity with a big “Thanks, MOM!” then read on.
It starts with flour. Every year I buy a bag of White Lily self-rising flour for my Christmas pudding, and I barely use half. The remainder sits around all year, expiring before I can finish it. That’s because self-rising flour already has the baking powder mixed in, and baking powder has a limited shelf life before it loses its power to lift.
So this year I decided to use the rest for the purpose for which it was intended: delicate, multi-layered Southern biscuits. It’s worth getting flour like White Lily or Martha White for biscuits. They’re both soft-wheat flours, which won’t develop the protein called gluten as readily as hard-wheat all-purpose or bread flours. Consequently, these biscuits are magically tender — as long as you refrain from overworking the dough.
I made my first post-holiday batch for New Year’s Day to pair with ham. Using a technique I read about on Leite’s Culinaria, I cut cold butter in with a pastry blender, then patted my dough out flat and folded it like a letter, repeating this a few times to make biscuits that rivaled any I’d eaten at a restaurant.
More recently, pressed for time, I threw together flour and butter in the food processor, then quickly folded in buttermilk and used a small ice-cream scoop to drop balls of dough onto some parchment. (These are the aforementioned B-game biscuits.) The resulting nuggets, craggy as rocks on the outside and fluffy as clouds inside, were irresistible.
So I leave it to you. Painstakingly pat them out and use a heart-shaped cutter in honor of Valentine’s Day. Or unceremoniously drop them in the pan. Either way, you’ll be spreading love.
2 cups self-rising flour, such as Martha White or White Lily
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick - 1 whole stick (I like everything buttery, but maybe you don’t) cold, unsalted butter, cut into thin pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus up to 2 tablespoons more if needed
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)
1. Heat oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking or cookie sheet with parchment or a non-stick mat.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, and baking soda in large bowl. Toss butter in dry ingredients to coat. Cut in butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (Or pulse together in a food processor ‘til you have pea-sized bits of butter, then pour it out into a good-sized bowl to mix in the buttermilk.) Add buttermilk; stir with fork until soft dough forms and mixture begins to pull away from sides of bowl.
3. To make drop biscuits: Using a small ice cream scoop with a trigger or lever, portion dough onto lined pan, leaving an inch or two between biscuits.
4. To make regular biscuits: With floured hands, gently knead dough on lightly floured surface just until smooth. Pat out dough to 3/4-inch thickness, then fold into thirds like a letter. Fold in half, pat again to 3/4” thickness, and repeat the process two more times. Pat one last time to 1/2” to 3/4” thickness, and cut with floured cutter. Press remaining scraps of dough together and cut as many more biscuits as you can. Place on prepared pan.
Bake smaller ones 10-12 minutes, larger ones 12-15, or until golden brown.
Brush with melted butter. Serve warm, maybe with butter and strawberry or blueberry jam.