Here in the South, we know our biscuits. However, if you ask a Southerner to define the ideal biscuit you'll get all sorts of answers. Some biscuits are flaky, others are light; some are beaten, others have yeast. I have come across many variations: sweet potato, pecan, angel, beaten, cheese and too many others to mention. I've tried dense biscuits, small biscuits, tall biscuits, flaky biscuits and pull-apart, moist biscuits. Want to know something? I've loved each and every one whether they were draped in butter, molasses, honey, sausage gravy, or better still--plain.
I have never met a biscuit I didn't like. As long as it was piping hot, freshly baked and always hand made, I was happy. Still am. Having said this, every biscuit may be good but not every biscuit is necessarily great. Like most personal recipes, biscuits are as good as the ones you grew up with, if you were lucky to have grown up in the South. Now I didn't grow up here. I'm one of those relocated Yankees, via Latin America (oh, we are a special breed of Southerners and there are not many of us here yet but we are just as proud), who happen to love everything about Southern food. I did not learn to bake biscuits from my mother. Does it count, I wonder, if I learned from somebody else's mother? Good. And she didn't teach me to reach out for a can, but instead, to feel the dough with my hands and to never, ever twist the biscuit cutter when I cut (they won't rise properly if you do).
Recently, some of you have complained that you are not having good results with your biscuits. After some informal polling, I think I have an answer to your connundrum. Most of your recipes use shortening. Frankly, I am a lard aficionado--it's better for you in the long run and gives biscuits the best flavor--and in a pinch, prefer to use butter, but many of you love your shortening. The problem is not in your head, my friends. New formulas and "newer and improved" versions of shortening with less artery-clogging matters are being lauded as equal to the old standby we used to buy in the blue can. ( I kid you not, I once met a man who bought a whole box of shortening, thinking that it was fried chicken in a can! ). Today, it might as well be anything but shortening, because the new kind is just not the same, I'm afraid. Biscuits don't rise as well as they did before, they are not as flaky, and those that should be light, are actually heavy.
Okay, so most of you still cringe in class when I make mine with lard--fresh lard, found in Latin tiendas and if you're lucky, the dark, nutty kind that renders from frying chicharron--but admit it...you become believers after your first taste of flaky, moist and flavorful biscuits, every time. That's okay. It will be our little secret. I won't tell anyone I noticed when you reached for a second and even third biscuit from our communal basket. But I see you and I love to see you love them! So for those of you who asked me for the recipe after class, here it is (don't worry, no one can trace you back here). Just remember to hide the lard in the fridge, if you're using the dark kind (some of you, because you want to remain incognito; the rest of us should do it so that it can solidify and stay cold when we cut it into the flour). Oh yes...I almost forgot...share the guilty pleasure with others. They'll love you for it. At least they'll love your biscuits!
Note: If you are lucky, your Latin tienda will offer you two kinds of lard: white and solid lard, and the dark, loose kind I mention above. You may use either. It is not necessary to chill the first, but it will help the latter remain solid. If using lard goes completely against your grain, use butter instead Just please, please, PLEASE, veer off the fried chicken in the can!
My Lard Biscuits
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup lard or butter (chilled)
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place flour and lard in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the lard into the flour until it resembles small peas. Add the buttermilk to the mixture and using your hands (or a wooden spoon) combine it until the dough almost comes together. Dust a clean surface with flour; dump the dough and knead lightly, three or four times or just until it comes together. Use a rolling pin and roll dough to 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick (depending how high you like them). Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, and careful not to twist, cut out 8 biscuits (you may re-roll the dough but be gentle, so that the biscuits can be tender). Place biscuits in an ungreased pan (close together if you want them to be moist; at separate intervals if you want them to be crusty all over). Brush tops with melted butter and bake for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden. Serve immediately. Yield: 8 biscuits.
Copyright©Sandra Gutierrez, 2009; All Rights Reserved.