I'm going to make a terrible confession to y'all. I like canned biscuits. In fact, I LOVE them. Specifically the buttery, layered peel-apart ones. I like them with sausage patties, jam, or just by themselves.
Wait! Don't give up me yet!
As much as I love the layered canned biscuits, I am NOT a fan of the canned 'Southern-style' buttermilk biscuits (WHY DO THEY CONTAIN SUGAR??). As hard as they try, they can never live up to a hot plate of fresh, homemade beaten biscuits, which absolutely, positively, HAVE to be made with White Lily flour. If you can't find White Lily in your area, you can combine cake flour and all-purpose flour (more on that below).
My grandmother made some seriously kick-ass biscuits. Dense but fluffy, giant, perfectly cooked biscuits that would make you swear off Hardee's (or Carl's Jr for you non-Southern folk) for life. Sadly, I never learned how to make her biscuits, as she passed away when I was in high school and more interested in flannel shirts and my Discman over cooking.
It's taken me a LOT of trial and error, and some embarrassingly BAD batches of puck-like biscuits, but I've finally come up with THE essential method that works best for me. The recipe itself is simple; but, as baking is often a fickle mistress, there are some tips & tricks that will make biscuit making MUCH easier.
Sure, this is a LOT of info to take in, but homemade biscuits are DEFINITELY worth it. Trust me, once you get it right, you'll never buy the canned ones again!
- GOOD Flour. White Lily SELF-RISING Flour to be specific. Not all-purpose. White Lily is hard to find outside of the South, but CAN be ordered online. It has a much lower protein content than most flours, and is made of soft winter wheat (as opposed to northern flours like King Arthur, made from hard spring wheat). Also, when measuring your flour, spoon it into your measuring cup and level it off with a knife. Don't just dip your cup into the bag; this packs the flour and can often give you a REALLY inaccurate measurement.
- FRESH ingredients. Self-rising flour contains baking powder, and can lose it's leavening properties after a while. Check the date on your bag, just like you would for your dairy products, and toss it if it's old. Keep in mind that biscuits are a "quick-bread", and don't use yeast for rising.
- Keep your dairy SUPER cold. You need to work quickly when cutting in your butter and make sure you do NOT let it warm up. Melty butter = crappy biscuits. Same with the buttermilk; keep it COLD.
- FULLY preheat your oven. You need a HOT (like 500 degrees hot) oven for perfect biscuits. Invest in an oven thermometer and make sure your oven's temperature is accurate. This is obscenely important for baking.
- Don't overknead (unless you LIKE bricks for breakfast). These are biscuits, not breads. Stir lightly and don't be afraid of clumpy batter - this is what you want! Just remember, overmixing increases density.
- Don't roll out your dough; simply pat it out gently into a 'dough' about 1" tall. Use a good, SHARP cutter and DO NOT TWIST. Twisting pinches and seals the edges of the biscuit, which prevents it from rising as well.
- Make sure the biscuits are touching one another when you place them in the pan (big surprise, I prefer to use a cast iron skillet). This helps the biscuits rise UP instead of OUT. Makes sense when you really think about it, doesn't it??
Still with me? Good. Moving on to actually making the biscuits....
This recipe actually comes straight off of the White Lily bag. I've tried dozens of different recipes, yet this one works the best. Ask your grandmother; there's a good chance this is the recipe she used as well.
White Lily Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from White Lily
2 cups White Lily self-rising flour
1/4 cup COLD butter
2/3 - 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 Tbsp melted butter
*If you can't find White Lily flour, simply combine 3/4 cup of cake flour with 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour. Since this isn't a self-rising blend, add 1 1/2 tsp of FRESH baking powder, along with 1/2 tsp each of salt and FRESH baking soda (don't just rob the box that you keep in the fridge).*
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Add flour to a bowl. Hopefully you read my tips and measured it correctly!
Cut the COLD butter into small cubes and cut into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, no larger than peas. You can use a pastry blender, 2 forks, or your hands.
Add in the buttermilk and stir lightly with a fork. Most of the flour should be incorporated and the dough will leave the side of the bowl, but still be shaggy. DO NOT OVER MIX.
On a lightly-floured surface, knead the dough GENTLY 2 or 3 times and pat into a 1" pad. Cut the biscuits with a sharp cutter, using an UP and DOWN motion (remember, don't twist!).
Place the biscuits in a pan touching one another. I use a deep cast iron skillet, but a springform pan works GREAT for this. Brush the tops with melted butter.