Biscuit making is not a difficult task, but is certainly serious business for many southern cooks. After all, homemade biscuits are perhaps the most quintessentially southern comfort food. The process by which the biscuits are prepared is equally as important as the ingredients used. Once you understand the technique, a little practice is all that is required to become a master biscuit maker. One of the age old questions regarding biscuits is whether to use butter or shortening. In general, shortening produces biscuits that are tender and dense, while butter yields a biscuit that is flaky and very flavorful. Either one will produce a classic, southern style biscuit, though I have opted for the butter recipe. Here are some important biscuit tips:
1. Keep the buttermilk and butter cold. The goal is to develop biscuit dough that has small bits of butter coated in flour. This is key to creating a light, flaky biscuit. If the butter is too warm, it will blend with the flour and become too smooth to rise properly. Work quickly so the heat from your hands does not warm the dough.
2. Gluten is the enemy of a perfect biscuit, therefore overworking the biscuit dough should be avoided at all costs. Gluten is developed as the dough is handled or kneaded and results in a biscuit that is overly dense and tough. By patting the dough and not kneading it, the flat layers of butter remain intact and will rise to create a light, flaky texture.
3. When cutting out the biscuits, be sure to press straight down with the biscuit cutter and do not twist. This will prevent sealing the edges which could result in the biscuit not rising properly.
4. By baking at a high temperature, the biscuit dough will set quickly and yield a biscuit that is nicely browned on top and bottom and white on the sides.
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. IN a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the cold butter into small chunks and, using a pastry cutter, two knives, or a food processor, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and mix just until combined. Do not overwork. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Gently pat the dough to a thickness of 1/2". Do not knead or use a rolling pin. Cut out the biscuits using a round cutter (don't twist) and place them on a baking sheet. For slightly crispy edges, place the biscuits 1 inch apart. For softer edges, place them so their edges are touching one another. Bake 9-10 minutes depending on size, or until the biscuits are golden. Serve warm with butter and jam.
Makes 12-16 biscuits