There is something special about offering houseguests warm, homemade biscuits. Whether it’s during a little welcome reception upon their arrival to your home or in the morning when they make their way to the kitchen for coffee, biscuits are a crowd pleaser. They are also versatile, considering you can make them sweet or savory and change up the flavors with herbs, cheeses, spices and any other ingredients that feel right to you in the moment.
For years, I’ve tweaked my family’s biscuit recipe. Each time I make a change, I declare that particular batch my best to date. It’s a simple recipe, born of my rural Kentucky roots. The biscuits just haven’t ever been fluffy enough for my taste, so I keep fine-tuning in an effort to get them to maximum rise. When I received a complimentary media invitation to the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (nochi.org) for an event featuring a conversation with Jessica Harris and Carla Hall with a biscuit demo, I couldn’t R.S.V.P. “yes” fast enough. Harris is a culinary historian, college professor, cookbook author and journalist and Hall is a chef and former model most know from her appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and as a cohost on ABC’s “The Chew.” The Nashville native’s new cookbook, “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration,” features her extremely buttery (8 tablespoons!) biscuit recipe (and here I thought the 4 tablespoons I use was a lot). A little Biscuit 101 from a Southern chef sounded like just what my biscuits needed to rise to new heights.
The first thing I learned — aside from the fact that Hall is exceptionally personable and entertaining — is that I was doing a lot of things the right way. Incorporating the dry ingredients: Check. Grating the butter: Check. Keeping the butter cold and not overworking the dough: Check. Folding the dough into layers: Check. Not cutting the biscuits too big: Check. (Hall recommends keeping them at around 2 inches or smaller, otherwise they get too big to get a good rise). The most revolutionary instruction was to flip the cut biscuit “pretty side up.” I assumed this was for aesthetic reasons, but she says it’s all about the rise. Hall also cautioned against twisting the cutter, because it can pinch the dough, which also affects the rise.
It became clear that over the years while I was obsessing over ingredients and measurements, the real issue was technique. In baking, the magic happens when all of these things come together. Bring that magic to your friends and family by breaking biscuits the next time they visit — even if it means taking a class to finally get everything just right.
Melanie’s Biscuits2 cups flour (I use bread flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons frozen butter, grated
2 tablespoons shortening (I use Crisco)
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 F. Mix dry ingredients until well combined. Add shortening and combine until mixture looks like crumbs. Grate frozen butter into mixture and toss until everything is evenly coated. Add buttermilk and gently mix with a spatula until dough is sticky. Turn the dough out on a floured work surface and roll into a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch. Fold it into thirds two or three times. Cut, place on baking sheet “pretty side up” and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. If desired brush with egg wash and then bake until golden brown, for 15 or 16 minutes.