Mom was (and is) a firm believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. My brother and I were required to eat breakfast every morning before school. We did not have the option of “skipping” breakfast and Pop Tarts were not in the cabinet.
We usually had biscuits and eggs, or oatmeal or cream of wheat. Pancakes were also common. Mom made the breakfasts herself, from scratch, even after she started teaching. She didn’t use mixes or instant anything.
Now that the nest is usually empty, Mom doesn’t make a fresh batch of biscuits every morning. She makes them once a week and freezes the extras for her own breakfasts and to share with me.
Last Saturday, she made a batch and I was there to capture her technique for The Ben Franklin Follies.
You need three simple ingredients:
- Self-rising flour. Mom likes Shawnee or Martha White brands.
- About 1/2 cup of shortening
Preheat your oven to 375° F if you’re cooking on convection, or 400º F if you’re using a regular oven.
Fill a fairly large mixing bowl about half-full with a good quality self-rising flour. I’m guessing there are 3 cups of flour in this bowl right now.
Add about 1/2 cup of shortening and blend the shortening in the flour. If you want to make fewer biscuits than shown in the picture, use less shortening to begin with. I explain this a bit more in Step Two.
Add enough buttermilk to make a fairly runny dough. You could stop here and move to step three but that will make the biscuits heavier and greasier. If you want to make half as many biscuits as Mom does here, you should probably use only 1/3 cup of shortening.
Assuming you want a larger pan of biscuits, then add some more flour and more buttermilk until the mixing bowl is pretty-much full of a soft dough. She added more flour after adding the buttermilk shown in this next picture.
Make sure you have a clean counter and rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a cylindrical object like a large tumbler. If you’re using something made of glass, be sure not to apply too much pressure—you don’t want to break the glass.
I like to cover the counter with wax paper to make clean-up easier. Mom uses a towel that’s coated in flour and stored in the freezer for reuse. Unless you’re planning to make biscuits regularly, I suggest using the counter-surface only with, or without, wax paper.
Sprinkle a lot of flour on your work surface. You don’t want the dough to stick. At this point, the dough should still be quite wet. Then turn the dough onto the floured surface and gently fold in more flour. You aren’t kneading the dough, but rather folding in flour. Here’s how Mom does it:
Several years ago, Mom shattered her right elbow in a fall and so I had to help her out in a lot of ways, including making biscuits. Let’s just say I don’t have quite the same technique or skill. Mom stood over me and said I “didn’t handle the dough correctly.” The process isn’t at all akin to kneading. It’s more along the lines of adding flour and barely folding the dough over to eliminate the stickiness.
The less you work the dough the fluffier the biscuits will be. Overworking the dough will lead to denser biscuits. You also don’t want to use TOO much flour in this stage because that will lead to drier biscuits.
Once you have a ball of soft dough, you’re ready to roll the dough into a sheet that’s about 1″ thick. Use a biscuit cutter, if you have one. If not, turn a drinking glass upside down and press into the dough to create round biscuits about 3-4″ in diameter.
You could use a smaller shape to cut the biscuits, if you want to use the biscuits for ham-and-biscuit appetizers. I suppose you could also make “drop” biscuits without rolling and cutting the dough but we never do that.
As you cut each biscuit, place it on a baking sheet. I’ve baked biscuits in everything from cookie sheets to cast iron skillets. It helps to spray the baking sheet with nonstick spray, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Baked at 375 F (if convection) or 400 F for about 12-15 minutes. The exact cooking time depends on the desired level of brownness you want and how fast your oven cooks. This batch seemed a bit more golden than Mom usually makes, but she said they were perfect.
To freeze, simply place the cooked biscuits in a freezer bag, seal and remove one or more for reheating as desired. I usually reheat one at a time, for about 35 seconds in the microwave. Microwaving changes the texture, though. If I were patient (or reheating for a crowd), I thaw briefly then place in the oven on about 300 for a few minutes to reheat properly.
If you’re from the South, you know how to eat biscuits. If you’re not, here are some suggestions:
- Slice, fill with ham and serve as an appetizer
- Serve for breakfast with eggs.
- Slice, add a bit of butter, and drown in raw honey or fruit preserves
- Serve as the bread with your main dish of choice
I can make these biscuits easily and quickly myself, although sometimes they’re not as fluffy as Mom’s. But then again, Mom’s cooking is always best, isn’t it?