Being a good ole Southern boy, the importance of good biscuits cannot be overstated. And it pains me to see so many of my Northern friends struggle to make a decent biscuit. And I swear it’s easy enough that you can make a perfect batch better than anything from a can or fast food fried chicken store the very first time you try.
I once went to a newly-opened restaurant in Philadelphia that billed itself as Southern Cuisine. It was a horrible experience in many regards (that didn’t improve on subsequent visits; the restaurant is now closed), but the last straw was the basket of “biscuits” brought to our table. They were tiny. Flat. Hard, and more suitable for playing hockey. On the customer comment card I was asked to fill out, I simply wrote this recipe for biscuits (every good Southern cook has their favorites committed to memory.)
These are light and buttery, with just the right amount of tang to them. They are perfect for slathering with butter and your favorite jam, or drowning in sausage gravy for a real Southern breakfast treat. And by using one of the variations, you can make drop biscuits in less than 5 minutes, which can also be used as “dumplings” on top of homemade chicken soup, or as a kind of pot pie crust.
These are not health-food items by any means, but they won’t kill you if you have them just once in a while. Don’t you dare try to modify the recipe to be healthier… it won’t work, and you’ll be convinced that you just can’t bake good biscuits.
There are a couple of different ways to make them (depending on what ingredients you have on hand) but I’ll start with my favorite.
- 2 cups (9 ounces) all purpose flour or cake flour, plus a little more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon salt, or a little less
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- just under 1 cup plain yogurt (see variations)
- Preheat oven to 450° F.
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, stirring to make sure everything is distributed evenly.
- Cut the butter into bits and either use a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers to rub the butter into the flour. This is critical to having light, flaky biscuits. You want to have layers of butter sandwiched between layers of flour. When you've done it right, the butter will disappear into the flour, which will resemble cornmeal. You can use a food processor for this if you wish. DO NOT melt the butter! Doing so will RUIN your biscuits. And for heaven's sake, don't use margarine or oil. The butter has to be COLD.
- Stir in the yogurt and gather the dough into a ball. Do NOT overmix! In fact, mix as little as possible.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. A clean countertop is fine, as this dough is not very sticky. Knead with your hands no more than ten times, and preferably less. Over-kneading is another mistake that produces tough biscuits that won't rise.
- Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to ¾" thick. Using a biscuit cutter or empty soup can, cut the dough into 2″ rounds. Technique is important here too: do not twist the cutter as you press down. Doing so seals the edges of your biscuits, making it more difficult for them to rise. Press straight down. You'll get sealed edges if you use a glass to cut your biscuit dough too. Place the biscuits evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. You can reshape the leftover dough and cut again. I generally get 10 perfect biscuits, and one or two lumpy ones from the leftover dough, which are always the "testers" I eat straight from the oven.
- Bake 7-9 minutes, or until they turn a beautiful golden brown. Best served immediately, but can be refrigerated overnight for serving with sausage gravy if kept sealed in an air-tight bag.
If you don't have any plain yogurt, substitute whole milk soured with vinegar. Before you start baking, warm the milk to room temperature (microwaving is fine, so long as the milk doesn't get too hot) and add a few teaspoons of white distilled vinegar and let stand to curdle. You can also use buttermilk if you have that on hand.
No baking soda? Use 4 teaspoons baking powder and regular milk instead of yogurt.
Cheese biscuits: stir in ½ cup grated cheddar or other cheese (parmesan is good), and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional). Bake on a lightly greased baking sheet.