I grew up in the South and although I haven’t lived there in 22 years now, it remains a core part of my identity. My grandparents were farmers and my grandmother made biscuits every day for breakfast using lard from the hogs they raised, often with sausage that also came from the farm. There was no Martha Stewart / Food Network / “foodie” fuss or oohing and aahing about the process. Biscuits were just part of the landscape, as normal as toast. (My grandparents would have had a good laugh about concepts like “farm to table” — how else was it supposed to work?**) When I visit the South, high on my list is finding a good biscuit.
In the early days of quarantine, I found out that Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill delivers via Goldbelly, so I ordered 10 chicken biscuits. For three Saturdays in a row, each person in my three-person family had one of the biscuits for breakfast (they were amazing — highly recommended). After we ran out, my mind shifted into DIY mode. While everyone else seemed to be chasing their sourdough dreams, I had visions of making biscuits. I’ve tried to make biscuits for many years of my post-Southern life and was never satisfied with the results.
To cut to the chase, I found a simple recipe that really works from Alton Brown. There are some important notes and modifications, though, and here they are:
- Make double the recipe. These biscuits go fast. They also store well so you can have them for days afterwards.
- Cut up the butter and shortening the night before and freeze the bits. Why? You’ll notice this in the recipe: “Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.)” This is very important. If the chunks of fat in the dough melt in the oven, they will sizzle and pop in the dough, creating the fluffy air pockets that make the biscuits good. If the fats melt while you’re working them into the dough, they get blended in and you don’t get that fluffy pop in the dough. Freezing the night before helps prevent premature melting.
- The instructions tell you to fold the dough a number of times. You should do that but consider trading one or two of the folds for rolling the dough with a rolling pin into a relatively uniform slab of dough with consistent thickness. Using a rolling pin in this way creates a nice flat-top biscuit with more consistent browning.
- The recipe says to cut the biscuits using a 2-inch cutter. Use a 4-inch cutter instead. The 2-inch cutter produces dainty little biscuits. The 4-inch cutter creates the size biscuits my grandma used to make and a biscuit that can hold any toppings you want to add (bacon, sausage, egg, cheese, etc) — though these are perfectly fine standalone.
I’m looking forward to the post-quarantine world so I can invite friends over for these biscuits. Until then, if you’re into biscuits, I encourage you to give these a try.
** Funny side story: I bought a vegetarian friend to my grandparent’s house once in the early 90s. My friend said to my grandmother, “I’m vegetarian.” My grandmother looked quizzically at her so she elaborated: “I only eat vegetables.” My grandmother smiled and said, “don’t worry, honey, we got vegetables!” and pushed a dish of green beans towards her, with the green beans sitting on a steaming slab of fatback. In my grandma’s mind, a vegetable just wasn’t a vegetable without pork.