Beaten Biscuits

My family adored homemade beaten biscuits, and in the back of my mind I can still hear the pounding of that dough out-of-doors atop an old tree trunk. The dough was made and placed on a heavy flat surface. It was beaten vigorously (one book I know instructs the cook to “use boys to do it”) at least 200 times, until the dough was very white and stiff. It was then rolled out until thin, cut into small circles, and baked. Ideally, each biscuit should be filled with very thin slices of Southern ham. No modern cookbooks, for obvious reasons, give a serious recipe for these biscuits. I do here, for the record. But I also offer a modernized version made in a food processor. The results are fair but cannot compare with those beaten with anguish.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, if desired
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter
  • ¼ cup cold lard
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup water
  • Melted butter for brushing

Method

  1. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into a mixing bowl.
  2. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter and lard into the dry mixture, until it has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the milk and water and blend until it yields a stiff dough.
  3. Knead for 20 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a flat, heavy surface and start beating with a heavy paddle, mallet, or rolling pin. As you work, fold the dough over in half. Continue beating at least 200 times, or for 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Roll out the dough to ¼-inch thickness, and use a biscuit cutter with a -inch diameter to cut the dough into rounds. Prick the top of each biscuit with 3 rows, using the tines of a fork. Arrange the biscuits on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until firm but not browned. They must not be soggy when they are split in half.
  6. Serve hot or cold. Serve split, if desired, with thin slices of Smithfield ham nestled between the halves.

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