With the big Christmas meal complete, there are always leftovers. My mom gave me a gracious amount of Smithfield ham to take back home with me. These beautiful slices of indescribable goodness will be carefully placed inside The Best Biscuits of My Life this weekend…if the ham lasts that long!
Here is the recipe that I will be using. It’s one that I have carefully adjusted with plenty of trial and error, and although I’m not particularly skilled at writing recipes, I hope that you’ll find this easy to read, easy to follow, and easy to eat!
For me, the smells from a kitchen are part of what makes a house a home. I think of some of the old houses that I’ve driven by, particularly old farm houses, and I can only imagine the thousands of hot biscuits that were made in those now-abandoned kitchens. What better for a restored home than a hot batch of biscuits from a restored recipe?!?
(I think it’s much easier to get all of the equipment out first, so rather than starting with a list of ingredients, I will be starting with a list of equipment and materials. This way you can get everything organized ahead of time.)
- Bowl (for mixing)
- Liquid Measuring Cup
- Dry Measuring Cup
- Dry Measuring Spoons
- Mixing Spoon or Spatula
- Dough Cutter
- Cutting Board or Dough Board
- 10-inch or 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet (or cookie sheet covered with parchment paper…the cast iron skillet gives a great crunchy bottom)
- Dish Towel (just makes flour clean-up easier)
- Pastry Brush(one special just for butter)
In a medium bowl, mix together:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Slice and place on top of flour mixture:
4 tablespoons butter
Place in unheated cast iron skillet:
1 tablespoon butter
In a measuring cup pour:
3/4 cup buttermilk
Place measuring cup with buttermilk in refrigerator. Place bowl with flour mixture and butter slices in freezer along with dough blender or knife and fork (whichever you are using). Leave for about 20 minutes. This time in the freezer for your ingredients and tools will help to ensure that the butter will melt in the oven rather than while you are preparing the dough. This will make flakier biscuits that rise better.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Cut butter into flour mixture in bowl. Use a dough cutter if you have one, or a knife and fork. Mixture should be crumbly with butter in small pieces covered with flour. I aim for pieces about the size of a small garden pea. If you need to, you can use your fingers to make smaller pieces when needed, and that will be okay. It’s the heat from your hands that can melt the butter so you want to be careful and do this only if needed.
Place bowl with flour mixture and measuring cup with buttermilk into freezer. Leave for about 10 minutes while waiting for oven to preheat.
Add buttermilk to flour mixture. Stir just until the dough clings together and has a uniform textures. Over-mixing causes tough biscuits.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently 10 to 12 times. You may do this by patting out your dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick and then folding a third of the dough toward the middle and then the other third, sort of the way you would fold a letter to put it in an envelope. Pat it out again and repeat only this time fold in the other two sides. You’ll be making about 4 of these “biscuit letters.”
Cut with a floured biscuit cutter, leaving space between biscuits. Press straight down. Pull straight up. Re-flour the cutter after each biscuit. Don’t twist because this will seal the edges and prevent your biscuits from rising properly.
Gently press together scraps to form additional biscuit dough to cut more biscuits. You should have 6 biscuits.
Heat cast iron skillet on medium until butter melts and heats slightly, but watch for browning.
Flip and place biscuits into skillet so that bottom (on floured surface) is now on top (in skillet). This will ensure even, more uniform rising and baking. They should be close, but not touching. Biscuits seem to like closeness, just not too much closeness.
You should hear a sizzle and smell a faint pancake-like aroma. This is a good thing. It’s going to be okay. Your biscuits will not be charred on the bottom (this was my big fear the first time I did this). Your biscuits will have a slightly crunchy bottom that adds an extra dimension of enjoyment to your biscuits. I understand that this is what distinguishes a true “Southern” biscuit.
Place in preheated oven and check after 5 minutes, rotating if needed for even baking.
Bake for 4 to 5 minutes more for a total baking time of 9 to 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, and you’ve got hot biscuits! You can brush the extra butter from the bottom of the skillet over the tops of the biscuits if you would like.
Final Notes About Equipment, Materials, and Project Assembly
A food processor will cause the dough to be tough. Although it can be used to cut the butter into the flour, I prefer not to since that just make something else extra to clean.
Southern flours are milled from soft wheat, and so they have less protein than the hard wheat used for most all-purpose flours. Because of this, the gluten does not develop as much when kneading, and therefore your biscuits will be less tough.
I use only unsalted butter, and so this recipe has been adjusted and tested using butter. Because of this, I am unsure if this recipe will work with margarine, shortening, or lard.
If you use self-rising flour (because it’s all that you have on hand), use regular all-purpose flour on your cutting board or breadboard when shaping your biscuits. The leavening in self-rising flour can leave an unappetizing film. (I never buy self-rising flour since it just takes up extra shelf space.)
Although a juice glass can be used to cut the biscuits and it’s what I used when I first started making biscuits from scratch, this will compress the sides of the biscuits and prevent them from rising as well.
For shiny tops, you can brush the tops of the biscuits with a little egg wash before baking.
I have added vinegar to milk to make a buttermilk substitute, but I would only recommend doing this in a true “biscuit emergency.” There are always other uses for buttermilk, not just biscuits and pancakes. It is also great in pound cakes!
Since these biscuits contain buttermilk, they should be baked first if you want to freeze any for a later meal. Honestly, mine don’t last long enough to make it to the freezer!