There has been a lot written about biscuits by experts and partisans of all kinds. I am neither. By biscuits, I mean traditional North American type biscuits, rather than the English sort. The latter are pretty much what we mean in the US when we say "cookies". This difference has caused some transatlantic confusion in the past, but seems generally understood these days. Our biscuits are more closely related to scones. (Though not so much to the various sweet "scones" ubiquitous in the US these days- filled with blueberries or chocolate chips, or what-all) Biscuits are little short (short as in shortening, e.g.. butterfat) breads/rolls, which have many regional and ethnic variants. I can't say I've ever met one I didn't like. Or that I'm a master of any particular type, either.
Many southern cooks sing the praises of White Lily flour for light biscuits. Some fans prefer flaky biscuits, or beaten biscuits, buttermilk, butter, or lard. The fast food chain, Popeye's, serves astonishingly good biscuits.(Their chicken and red beans and rice are pretty good too, actually, though probably they could be applied directly to your arteries, to save time). Most fast food biscuits are on the pathetic and doughy side, though. Still, presented with one, I tend to eat it. All of it. Exuberant advocates of specific recipes tend to come from, or adopt, one of the regional traditions of biscuit making.It's fun to check out their arguments.
I don't come from a classic biscuit tradition myself-the only biscuits we (occasionally) had in my childhood were drop biscuits made with Bisquick -and they weren't so bad either. Nor can I claim to be entirely opposed to the kind of biscuits that come in the exploding cardboard tubes- I've eaten them uncomplaining on many occasions, despite full knowledge of the weird chemical components listed on the packaging. I just plain love biscuits-for breakfast with sausages and gravy, made into strawberry shortcakes, topping cobblers and potpies, tiny ones with thinly sliced country ham at parties, and spread with butter -eaten with anything juicy, or salty or saucy.
I have a small collection of biscuit cutters, round and square, and even this thrifty old-fashioned device which you could roll across biscuit dough to cut perfectly aligned biscuits, leaving no scraps. My budding collection gives me something small, easy to carry and cheap to look for at flea markets and yard sales. And it doesn't take up too much space in my crowded apartment. I don't really have many yet..I'm especially fond of a jadite green plastic number that apparently came in a box of Bisquick in the thirties. Old kitchen tools are awfully nice to have around and use. They give me a pleasant, corny/sentimental feeling of connection with other cooks of other times and places.
I must also admit to possessing one of the sillier varieties of napery ever conceived of by the victorians, who so loved to invent single use food accessories, (we owe them the asparagus peeler, and the pickle fork, for example), the better to advertise their prosperity, and love of gimmick to their dinner guests.It is a biscuit server thingie- it folds down flat, and opens to hold biscuits in its little pockets, keeping them warm, and making them look like little animals, hiding in burrows. Linen of course. Did I mention that I have two? Oy. As you may have noticed, I am not necessarily entirely practical, or sane.
Anyhow, I'm not wedded to a particular biscuit recipe- I like to try different types. I'm this way about rice pudding, too. As a rule, I like to choose, and learn well, a single recipe for most of my favorite foods. It is comfortable to have a repetoire you can count on. For some reason,though, I don't feel like settling for one sort of biscuit. I'm a sucker for any slightly varied recipe I haven't yet tried. I do have an old reliable one though, which I make when I'm pressed for time. It's a James Beard recipe for cream biscuits-simple as can be, courtesy of Marion Cunningham, his friend and protege.
This is a truly fool proof recipe-perfect for a beginning cook to impress his or her friends. For some reason, serving any homemade bread product makes most people feel pampered, and it sometimes induces extreme and highly satisfactory expressions of gratitude. This works for me- on the giving and on the receiving ends of the equation.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsps sugar
1 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 Tbsps melted butter
Preheat oven to 425F. Put dry ingredients in a bowl, and fluff them together with a fork. Stirring constantly, slowly add 1 cup of the cream. Gather it all together, adding a bit more cream if it goes saggy and dry. When it holds together nicely, put it on a floured bread board, and knead it for about 60 seconds. Pat it into a square about 1/2" thick. Cut into 12 squares, and dip each in the melted butter, dipping all sides of each biscuit. Put them on an ungreased baking sheet, about 2" apart. Bake about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve hot. (This actually takes longer, in my slow oven. Know your equipment and its flaws, eh?)
These could not be easier and they are soooo good. I have made them using half and half, when I had no heavy cream, and they are not (if you will excuse me) half bad.
Addendum: And, because I can't leave well enough alone, here is another unusual biscuit recipe-also very good-but not so good-for-you, I guess:
From Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken, by Ronnie Lundy
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup bacon grease
1/2 cup milk
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Work bacon grease in with your fingertips-use a light hand and save a little of the grease out. Add milk a little at a time until the dough holds together, but is not wet or sticky. Ms. Lundy squeezes these biscuits out using a technique that I have not mastered. You can, however, pat the dough out into a rectangle 1/2" thick, and cut it with a biscuit cutter or knife. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and smear a tiny dab of the grease on top of each one-just a smear.Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes, or until just browning. Serve hot.