About two years ago, I decided that I was going to embark upon a culinary adventure. I wanted to perfect the biscuit. A few years earlier, my sister-in-law had purchased me Alton Brown’s baking book for Christmas (a great gift, btw – Thanks again, Becky). In it, he talked about how he went through this arduous process of trying a million different biscuit recipes and finally arriving at a conclusion. I didn’t do so well when making what he called his favorite biscuit. I decided to start at the very simplest recipe (on the back of the White Lily flour bag) and go from there.
Over the course of that time (around 2 years or so), I experimented with many different ingredients and techniques. With confidence, I can say that both ingredients and technique are extremely important. You cannot divorce the two (as one of my graduate school professors liked to say).
I’ll probably never be able to completely resist the temptation to tinker with the recipe, but here it is as I make it right now.
- 20 oz White Lily All Purpose Flour (yep, you’ve got to weigh it)
- 8 teaspoons Clabber Girl Baking Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (needs to be less than 6 months old)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I prefer kosher, but have used plain table salt with no difference)
Mix these dry ingredients together in a large bowl. No, I will not tell you how much 20 oz is in volume. If you want to get this right, you’re going to have to weigh it. Just mix it up with your hands or a large wooden spoon.
Now, add in
- 4 tablespoons lard (There can be no substitute. Don’t even try it.)
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter flavored shortening (I prefer Crisco)
With your fingers, cut the solid (hopefully very cold) fats into the dry mixture. You need to keep working it until you have a fairly fine, mealy texture. I find it helpful to first toss the tablespoon size chunks in the flour and then start breaking them up one at at a time. Once they’re broken down into smaller, I just start squishing it all with my fingers. I’ve tried this in a mixer, with a pastry cutting tool, and many other ways. Without a doubt, using your fingers is the easiest way to do this.
Now, in a separate bowl mix together the following:
- 2 cups buttermilk (the full fat stuff, not low fat or nonfat)
- 1 egg, beaten (unorthodox, I know, but trust me, this makes a huge difference)
Using an egg gives a little more structure to the biscuit. Without it, you’ll find that they taste great, but tend to crumble apart too easily. The egg acts as a culinary glue that binds it all together. I haven’t tried it with 2 yet, I suspect it would be too much – but I’m not opposed to trying it out.
Once the egg is thoroughly beaten into the buttermilk, add the wet mixture into the dry. With your hands, mix the two together. I suppose you could use a wooden spoon, but somehow I still think using your hands is easier. I would not recommend using a mixer for this. A mixer will be too rough with the dough. Biscuit dough is very delicate. If you handle it too much, the biscuits will be tough.
This produces a very wet dough. Sprinkle a coating of AP flour onto the top of the dough, then gently dump the dough onto a well-floured surface. Sprinkle a bit more flour on it now that it’s on there counter. Gently knead it just a few times until it just starts to hold together. Don’t overdo it.
Next, by hand, flatten the dough out until it’s about a half inch in height. Then, use a biscuit cutter to cut out the rounds. Be sure to use a cutter with a fairly sharp edge and don’t forget to dip it in flour before each cut.
Place the biscuits on a half sheet pan that had been lined with parchment paper. Dock each biscuit by lightly pressing your thumb into the middle of each biscuit, leaving a small dent ion each one.
Place the sheet pan in a 450 degree oven and check after 12 minutes. They’ll likely be done in 15. After removing from the oven, brush with melted butter (salted, real butter only, please). I know 450 sounds high for something like biscuits, but it works. I think it’s the fact that it’s such a wet dough that makes the higher temp work.
This recipe tends to make 15-20 biscuits for me, but that all depends on how efficient you are with rolling out the dough and what size biscuit cutter you use (I think mine is 2.5 inches).
I really enjoy biscuit making now. It’s funny how so many people are afraid of trying to make them, but I really enjoy it. I find it’s one of my go-to recipes that I’m confident will always turn out just fine.
Give it a shot and let me know how it turns out for you.