Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Traditional Southern Biscuits

In the mid 1940's my grandmother had become a single parent. My grandfather died suddenly on Christmas Eve in 1941, probably of complications related to severe asthma. She was managing to hold together house and home with a house full of teenagers.

One night a fire started in the house. Everyone got out without a scratch but unfortunately the house and all her possessions were a complete loss. The only item that survived the fire was her dough bowl.

A dough bowl is a traditional Southern cooking utensil used to make biscuits and other dishes requiring a dough. It's a long shallow bowl with sides that drop gently into the bowl. It's usually oblong shaped rather than round and made of wood.

Nanny's dough bowl was very old and had been handed down in the family. It is now the possession of one of my cousins who, the last time I saw it, had it displayed as a work of art. Over the years it's naturally smooth surface has been polished to a sheen by the constant rubbing of hands and dough. It's wood has taken on a golden brown glow from the oils used in the cooking. The bowl, crafted by hand by some unknown ancestor truly is a work of art.

It's hard to find a real dough bowl these days outside of an antique store. So, you'll probably have to opt for a large mixing bowl for this recipe for traditional Biscuits and do your folding and mixing on a floured counter top. Traditionally, the mixing of the ingredients was done in the bowl and then the folding done using the shallow sides to pull the dough and fold it over the center. You'll also notice this recipe calls for vegetable shortening. That's a concession to modern sensibilities and health concerns. Traditionally, lard would have been used.

This particular recipe calls for regular milk, however, Nanny used buttermilk in biscuits (the legendary "Buttermilk Biscuits"). I haven't substituted buttermilk in this particular recipe before, but I think it could easily be done. Just remember that making Southern Biscuits is a peculiar combination of science, art, and witchcraft! I don't know why but this simple recipe can get the best of some of the best cooks (and chefs) in the world! Baking biscuits, though, is an experiment everyone should try a few times, though!


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, cold
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, cold
1 cup milk


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Add 1 tablespoon of the cold butter and the cold shortening and work it into the dry ingredients, using your hands, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk. The dough will be sticky. Dust your work surface with some flour. Turn the dough onto the floured surface. Gently fold each side toward the center. Pick up the dough and dust the work surface with additional flour. Return the dough to the floured surface and fold each side towards the center again. Turn the dough over and press it out to 1-inch thickness. Cut the biscuits, straight down, do not twist the cutter, with a 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter. Grease a pan or lipped cookie sheet with butter and place the biscuits on it about 1/4 inch apart. Let the biscuits rest for 15 minutes before baking. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

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