These are the best biscuits in the world. They aren’t made with buttermilk or even butter. These are the best biscuits because they are the ones my grandma made for me growing up in her tiny Ladson, South Carolina kitchen. When I was maybe 8 or 9 years old we moved in with my grandma. I would come home from school and she would be in the kitchen making dinner– usually stewed chicken with carrots and potatoes, white rice, and if she had time, biscuits. She made dinner every single day and my cousins (who were much older) would drop by from whatever they were doing and grab a plate of food.
Eventually I convinced her to let me help her with dinner after I got home from school. First lesson, was how to make the rice and what to do if you burn the rice. She didn’t always make biscuits, but when she did, she made them with things that she had in the house: flour, shortening, salt, baking powder. I remember rolling them with her rolling pin and cutting (but not twisting!) with a heavy glass. She would serve them with butter, but I always ate mine plain.
My grandma passed away when I was 11, and decades later, I found myself wanting those biscuits and I couldn’t remember the recipe. Because 9 year old me didn’t write anything down. (Millenials!) Thus began the crazy journey to recreate those biscuits. I’ve made no less than 15 different biscuit recipes. If you have a biscuit recipe on the internet, I’ve probably made it.
Biscuit recipes are a variation on a theme.
Buttermilk v. Heavy Cream v. Whole Milk
Butter or Shortening or Both?
Food processor v. pastry cutter v. forks
Then I read people’s techniques. Some people swear freezing the butter makes a difference. This made sense to me, since I keep butter in my fridge just in case I need to make a pie at the last minute. But frozen butter is only important if you want the flakiest biscuit ever. I wanted searching for a biscuit with a texture best described as a fluffy pillow.
At one point I was weighing flour on a scale and chilling bowls, pastry cutters in the freezer. There was the incident where I misread the amount of baking powder [those biscuits made it to the trash pretty quickly] In retrospect, I should have known that none of those recipes were right because they were too much. Growing up we didn’t have a lot. No food processors or complicated techniques to make biscuits. She made hundreds of biscuits to feed her family using the things that were available to her.
If you don’t have Edna Lewis’ The Taste of Country Cooking , it’s worth it if for nothing else than the special note about a particular brand of baking powder that isn’t as good as her favorite kind of baking powder. Old. School. Shade. It’s Edna. Freaking. Lewis. She can say whatever she wants to say. This book is where I found my grandma’s biscuit recipe.
Following that recipe to the letter (no modifications!) I finally cracked the code. My reward that day in my kitchen was a pillow-like cloud biscuit that made me burst into tears. I transported back to my that kitchen, and all those years ago and it was like she was still here.
No-Frills, Down-Home Cloud-like biscuits
- 3 cups sifted flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tsp Baking Powder
- ⅔ cup crisco room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl whisk together the sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in the crisco, using a pastry cutter, two forks or your hands until the flour mixture resembles cornmeal. Slowly pour in the milk and stir with a strong wooden spoon until the flour resembles a strong dough. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and sprinkle a tablespoon of flour onto to the top of the dough.
Flatten the dough with your hands into a 8x10 rectangle with about a ½ inch in thickness. Flour the biscuit cutters and cut out the biscuits taking care to not twist the cutter. The motion should be swift and straight. Try to cut the biscuits as close together as possible, so that you have very little left over dough. Pat together the remaining dough, but don’t over handle because the dough will become tough.
Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet about ½ inch apart. Bake for 13 minutes. Brush with melted butter and serve.