Biscuits, the quintessential Southern baked good, were my nemesis for years. As a Yankee who married a Southerner, I strived for years to make a biscuit that would meet my husband's lofty expectations. Southern biscuits are at once tender but not cakey, tall but not too flaky, and (of course) are loaded with butter but are not dense. My husband's grandmother was a true Southern cook, and her biscuits (which I could not taste because they exist only in my husband's memory) were my Moby Dick. I searched fruitlessly for years for the right combination of ingredients and technique that would elevate my biscuits to the heights of that warm memory. Whenever I thought I had it, there would be one characteristic denying me perfection--too cakey, too flaky, too tender, too tough, too squat, too tall. Biscuit nirvana eluded me again.
With this recipe, my husband says I am 95% there. I might get a bit closer if I used a soft, bleached Southern flour like Hudson Cream or White Lily, but I don't use bleached flours. However, even if I find all the right ingredients and perfect the techniques, I will never reach 100%, because really, who can compete with the memory of a cherished grandmother? I believe I will end the search here lest I share the fate of the doomed Captain Ahab.
Southern Style Biscuits
Makes about a dozen, 2 1/2-inch biscuits
2 1/2 cups (12 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour (can use bleached if you must)
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder (I use Rumford)
4 ounces (1 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and sliced into 8 pieces
10 ounces (1 1/4 liquid cups) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in food processor; pulse to combine. Add butter pieces and pulse until there are no large visible butter lumps (12-15 pulses). You can cut the butter in with a pastry cutter or two knives if you don't have a food processor.
Put flour mixture into a large bowl and buttermilk. Using a rubber spatula, press mixture together until it's mostly cohesive (if necessary add additional liquid--you can use water--be careful not to over mix).
Turn mixture out onto clean work surface that is very lightly dusted with flour. Pat out into a 9-inch (or so) square. Fold in half and again press out into a square (make sure the dough doesn't get warm--refrigerate briefly if needed). Repeat the folding and pressing one last time.
Cut into biscuits using a sharp cutter, no larger than 3 inches. Press the scraps together to make more biscuits, being careful not to work the dough too much. (The latter biscuits won't be as pretty.) If you make the biscuits too large they won't cook properly--the outside will get tough before the inside is fully baked.
Place biscuits on ungreased baking sheet (line with parchment for easy cleanup). Bake about 15 minutes or until tops are lightly golden brown. Eat.
PS for a really Southern, really tasty treat, slice day old biscuits in half, butter, and cook on a griddle before stuffing with bacon, egg, cheese or whatever. MMMMmmmm, grilled biscuits.