Since my husband is from the South, he has great expectations for biscuits. He likes them tall, somewhat flaky, but definitely not cakey.
My previous attempts were either too cakey, overly flaky (to the point of resembling pie crust), dense and squat, or so tender they wouldn't hold together.
Finally, after trying the formula from Michael Ruhlman's Ratio, I feel like I have nearly mastered the high-rise, fluffy but not cakey biscuit. It couldn't be easier.
Ruhlman calls these "Chicago biscuits" after the ratio, which is 3:1:2 (the area code for Chicago). Three parts flour, one part butter or fat, and two parts liquid (by weight), plus a little salt and baking powder, equals biscuit bliss. For added rise and layers, I folded the dough in half twice after patting it into a rectangle. I didn't want to work it too much and risk making the biscuits tough, but this was just enough to get a super rise out of these puppies.
I used a very sharp knife to cut the biscuits. I like squares because there are fewer scraps and because I think they look nifty. You do want to cut all the way around, including the outside edges. Just as with puff pastry, if you do not cut the edges the dough will not rise, because the edges left after rolling or patting out will be a little smushed on the sides. Trust me on this one; I've tried it seeral times without cutting the outside edges and those sides remained squat.
Complete instructions follow.
3 parts unbleached all purpose flour (15 ounces)
1 tablespoon double acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 part unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes (5 ounces, 10 tablespoons)
2 parts buttermilk (10 ounces)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Cut butter into flour (I used a food processor, about 12 pulses, or you could do it by hand) until mixture resembles really coarse cornmeal.
Add liquid and stir (or pulse) just until dough starts to come together. Turn dough out onto lightly floured cutting board.
Pat or roll into a 9-inch rectangle. Fold in half and pat out again. Repeat one more time, making sure the dough doesn't get warm and melt the butter.
Cut into 9 pieces (3x3). Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and brush tops with melted butter. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.