In order to talk about biscuits, I have to talk about lard, and butter, and shortening. I have to talk about buttermilk, and whole milk, and cream. I have to talk about soft winter wheat, and “regular” wheat, and how the flour is different. I have to talk about baking powder and how aluminum in your baking powder will ruin things like biscuits. I have to talk about salt, and how you want to use non-iodized salt in your biscuits. I have to talk about mixing your biscuits, or not. I have to talk about theory vs. experience.
I have to talk about the grand southern tradition of biscuit-making, using only flour, lard, and water. I have to talk about the spreadsheet I keep that has nearly every great biscuit recipe I could find over the years broken down to show exact proportions and averages and ranges and all kinds of statistics. I have to talk about listening to Bill Neal ask my father about how to make biscuits while on a picnic in Duke Gardens many years ago, when I was a child.
I have to talk about biscuits cooked in an iron skillet over open coals, and yankee “biscuits”, and how too many people make their biscuits too large and too thick and how this affects their texture and consistency. I have to talk about small flat biscuits served at southern picnics and church suppers that have one razor-shaved slice of country ham in between the carefully split discs.
Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I can just post the recipe here, and let you figure it out for yourself.
1 cup soft (low-gluten) winter wheat flour
1 cup regular unbleached all-purpose flour
Additional flour for rolling or if the humidity requires it.
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
¾ cup buttermilk (half&half or heavy cream gives you completely different biscuits, depending – good ones, but very different)
5-8 tablespoons lard
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, beaten
1 egg white, beaten and used to wash the tops of the biscuits
Combine dry ingredients. Add lard to the dry ingredients. I keep my lard frozen and dice it into bits, and combine in the stand mixer until the flour becomes “mealy”. Combine the buttermilk with the egg + yolk and beat, then add to dry ingredients. Mix until the liquid is thoroughly incorporated and begins to smooth out. You want the dough tacky, but not sticky.
Remove from mixer, press or roll out to about ½ inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter (3” to 3.25” is a good width for ½ inch thickness), but do not twist the cutter, just cut straight down and pull up.
Place biscuits on a thick bright metal cookie sheet or on an iron skillet. Brush each biscuit with the egg white. Place in a 425 degree pre-heated oven for 12-14 minutes in a top rack.
These are “company” biscuits. Biscuits can be as simple as cream + flour, or lard + flour + water. In fact, mix any low gluten flour with fat and enough liquid to make dough and you have biscuits.
There are many things you can do, if you insist on “fancying up” your biscuits. Add a small jar of drained pimientos, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne. Add dill. Add 10-year old aged cheddar that crumbles more than it cuts.
Me, I like a plain hot biscuit with a slice of a real tomato, too much butter, and some salt and pepper. Country sausage or country ham make a great biscuit as well.