It was sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s when I first tasted homemade biscuits that my brother’s best friend Ian baked. Throughout my college years and beyond, my sister, mica, my best friend, Chris and I usually held impromptu parties or get-togethers where cheese ruled and wine overflowed amidst heady conversations to the sound of eclectic music playing in the background. These soirees normally lasted till the wee hours of the morning, which meant that one, two, or more friends, ended up spending the night. If it happened to be a weekend or during vacation, the following morning we would make elaborate breakfasts usually consisting of an omelet or French toast with hot chocolate or cafe mochas.
One particular weekend morning we were out of bread so Ian decided to make biscuits the way he had it back home in Jamaica. Since he was mostly known for his huge appetite and stealing food off Chris’ plate or the person closest to him, I was a little skeptical, especially because it was without a recipe I was too busy preparing my famous spiced hot chocolate and vaguely remembered him grabbing some flour, butter and milk and wondering if he also used an egg. He worked so quickly that I didn’t get to follow what he was doing but I was surprised at how damned good they were.
It’s been a few decades and I finally got around to making biscuits, and now that I’ve made them, I don’t know why I felt so intimidated.
This is my version based on a buttermilk biscuit recipe I found in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. After browsing through various recipes on the web, I realized there are so many ways to make delicious biscuits Most have the same basic ingredients and aside from using cold butter and milk, they all seem to agree that gently handling the dough is key to a light biscuit. Differences usually centered around choices of shortening and flour, or whether to roll out the dough or to simply pat it down.
The original Southern biscuits where likely made with lard but today’s health conscious society tends to demonize it, including butter and Crisco... so it comes down to what you feel most comfortable with and what is readily accessible - I used butter because that’s what I had on hand. The brand of flour used also seems to affect the taste and quality and many swear by White Lilyflour for a superior biscuit. Again, I went for what was in my cupboard - All Purpose unbleached flour.
I added my own touch, which I later found was not so original, by including powdered milk. Since I had no buttermilk and only keep evaporated canned milk (that I absolutely love!) in my fridge, I mixed it with some of my friend Robotman homemade yogurt. I also increased the amount of butter because it did not seem enough when I was rubbing it in. One recipe brushed some softened butter between layers for a flakier finish.
Finally, I decided to only use my hands just how I recall my friend did, and it also gave me better control to not over work the dough. Additionally, using my hands to divide the dough not only eliminated the question of what to do with the dough scraps left from using a cutter, it also gave the biscuits a rustic finish.
Not using a cookie cutter lends to more rustic and interesting biscuits
Serve with butter & jam or your favorite topping while still hot.
Preheat the oven to 450º
2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board
3 Tablespoon powdered milk (optional)
1/2 Teaspoon salt (do not add if using salted butter)
4 Tablespoons baking powder (use one without aluminum)
1/4 Teaspoon baking soda
6-9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold
3/4 Cup cold buttermilk (or 6 Tbsp whole or canned milk and 6 Tbsp yogurt)
- Sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl.
- Using your fingers, rub butter into mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal.
- Quickly, but gently fold in buttermilk, just until the dough holds together...Don’t over-mix or biscuits will be tough.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and with floured hands gently pat dough into a ball.
- Using your floured hands, break in half, place one half on top of the other and lightly press down. Repeat four times.
- Break dough in half; divide each half into three, break each piece in two till you have 12 pieces.
- Gently pat each piece into 1/2 inch thick circles.
- Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet leaving a little space between them.