Making quick breads is such a basic culinary skill that at one time those persistent legions of people who spend their time minding other people’s business sniffed their disapproval of a newly-wed husband’s wife by saying, “He married a woman who can’t even make biscuits.” Those were more genteel times. Nowadays, of course, those same people would just say he hooked up with a tramp and be done with it.
Like many short bread recipes, the one for biscuits is more technique than ingredients. Getting the biscuits to rise well is the key, and if you don’t follow a reasonable procedure, you’re going to end up throwing away a pan of hockey pucks. Your ingredients work best if chilled. Biscuits shouldn’t be worked a lot; excess kneading makes the dough so dense that it won’t rise. Biscuits should also be cut out quickly while the dough is cool, and with a clean, sharp edge that will not pinch. Crowding the biscuits a bit also helps them to rise, but if you get them too close together the centers won’t bake through. Also make sure the oven is hot (450/475) before you put them on a rack in the upper third of the oven. So for all you floozies out there who need a bonus the morning after, here’s how to make biscuits. And if you don’t carry a skillet with you, well, you’re on your own.
Take two cups of self-rising flour (I use Martha White) and sift in dry a scant teaspoon of baking soda; activated by the buttermilk, this helps the rise. Work thoroughly into this about 1/3 a cup of cold vegetable shortening or butter. Mix with the fingers until it has an almost granular texture. Then, working quickly, stir in enough cold buttermilk to make a sticky dough, about 3/4 cup. Throw this dough out on a generously-floured surface, sprinkle with a scant more flour and knead a couple of times, enough to coat the dough with flour. Then roll out the dough very thick, about a half-inch, and cut into rounds. You can make them as big or small as you like, just be sure to cut them with a sharp edge: a Mason jar just won’t work. Again, work quickly so that the dough doesn’t get warm. Place biscuits just touching in a lightly greased skillet and pop them into a hot oven for about a quarter an hour. You want them golden-brown and fragrant; brush lightly with butter while hot right before serving.