Introduction: Southern Biscuits Better Than Any Can!
I saw an instructable recently for sausage gravy and thought it was awesome except for the canned biscuits. It is so easy to make biscuits and they are a perfect substitute for so many other things: cobbler (add more sugar), pie crust (especially if you're no good at pie crust), pizza bottom, shortcake....And if you are, like I am, from the South (USA) you frown on things like canned biscuits- at least I do. They're OK, but if you have homemade, then you're spoiled.
So here goes my biscuit recipe-- but you'll have to understand up front, I don't measure much, just kinda know about how much you need. And I literally use my hands mostly to measure
But in the cookbook there is a recipe and this is close to what I do and of course I didn't start out without measuring, but used a recipe:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 c. vegetable shortening
3/4 c. milk
Step 1: Chill the Flour
I started putting my flour in the freezer because I live in Houston, TX where it is hotter than h-e- double hockey sticks (my husband grew up in Boston, so this expression is his) and very humid. Today we're enjoying a relatively mild humid day with 50% humidity, so 97 degrees Fahrenheit is 102 degrees. And after discovering bugs one time too many in my flour, I started putting the flour in the freezer.
The benefit of this is when you're cutting in your fat it is that the flour is cold which is helpful for making well distributed fat molecules. Now if you live somewhere cold, you're probably not enamored with biscuits in the first place, but obviously you don't need to keep your flour in the freezer.
Fat-- use whatever you're comfortable with- butter (luscious!), shortening, or lard. And those are really the only choices of fat. Indulge and enjoy.
Cutting in means that you distribute your fat among your flour. You can use a pastry cutter, a fork, two knives, or your hands. I started off with the pastry cutter and the two knives method and learned how visually this looks, then I began using my hands because it was one less thing to wash.
Step 2: Leavening
I use baking powder for my biscuits and not self rising flour- but this is an option for most people. I just don't like keeping two kinds of flour around (self-rising and regular) because it will mess up pie crust and gravy if you use self-rising.
You can use a sifter to sift your flour and salt, baking soda. Lately I use a wire mesh strainer. Works just as well and quicker too! And the faster I work, the quicker I get to eat.
Take about 2 cups of flour. Dump it in the strainer. Add about 2-3 teaspoons (or 1 tablespoon) of baking powder, a scant teaspoon of salt, and a little pinch of sugar (optional, but I'm southern so I like that little pinch of sugar).
Shake all of this through your strainer. If you have any chunks of flour left- I always do- figure this is baking soda and push it a little with your fingers so that it is forced through the strainer.
If you're using a sifter, sift, sift, sift sift, sift. (This is why I switched to the strainer-- too lazy for all that sifting!)
Step 3: Add Fat and Milk
Next you want to cut in your flour.
Since your flour is cold, this helps to chill those fat molecules. But I guess if you live somewhere cold, maybe this isn't a necessary step- but then again, you probably don't like biscuits with sausage gravy either?
Spoon about 3-4 heaping tablespoons of shortening for 2 cups of flour. I work with my fingers and just break up the fat pieces into smaller chunks. I kind of rub my fingers together like I'm snapping my fingers. This breaks up the chunks into smaller pieces. I don't know how to explain it fully-- it is just a practice thing. But if you've been using your pastry cutter or the two knives and know what you are looking for, dive in with your fingers and try this. After you're done, your flour will look kind of lumpy.
Make a well in your flour mixture and then pour in about 3/4 c. of any kind of milk (except if you're using buttermilk there is a problem that you need to use baking soda and not baking powder). Stir this around a few times to bring the mixture together, but don't overwork it. Less is more. Then you kind of wipe the bowl with your ball of biscuit that forms. If your flour mixture is too dry, you'll end up with a floury bottom or if it is too wet, it will be really sticky. Throw some extra flour on the sticky one, but don't try to mix in extra milk because you'll overwork it. Just have extra flour on the bottom.
Step 4: Knead Lightly
Knead lightly-- all I mean is that you mix it just a few times with your spoon so that it just starts to come together and then press it down a little. Don't try for the canned biscuit smooth. NO!! Too overworked.
Then press it down flat in your bowl with your hands so that it is about 1/2 thick. Yes, I did say with your hands. Not necessary to get out the rolling pin, nor transfer to a floured board or whatever. Just use the bowl and press it out with the palms of your hands so that it is evenly thick.
Then use a biscuit cutter (or you can use a glass but I don't like that-- too thick) to cut out some biscuits and plop in a pan. I have a biscuit pan. My husband gets hell (no hockey sticks) when he uses my biscuit pan for cooking something else, especially something greasy. Hell hath no fury like a southern woman whose biscuit pan has been desecrated.
Then cook in a 425-450 oven for 18-20 ish minutes. My oven is old. I just look to see if they're the right color! The right color is lightly brown across the top. Not too brown (like a nut, any nut but almonds). I kind of look for something that looks like a fair skinned lady with freckles. Not too brown, but just lightly brown.
By the way, I'm a lightly skinned lady with freckles. And red hair- though more strawberry blond. And I grew up in Georgia, not that it matters other than I know a good biscuit when I see one.
Step 5: Yum!
After you've had homemade biscuits you will definitely never eat canned biscuits again, even though your first try might not achieve the yum factor, please keep trying!
I will have to acknowledge my husband here. He has been through 30 years of biscuits and a few times I bombed-- like when I used baking soda with buttermilk or subbing baking soda for baking powder. Don't do either one of those. But through all those mishaps, he ate the biscuits uncomplaining.
Nice guy- huh?
But, I'm hoping if you follow my somewhat inexact directions and get your result-- it will be better than any canned biscuits.
And if you have a good biscuit with some good real butter dripping down your fingers....yum!