Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits

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This is the queen of all Southern biscuits, the one that cooks have been baking for ordinary home meals, formal buffets, church suppers, political rallies, and virtually any other occasion for as long as anybody can remember. They’re the light, fluffy, tangy biscuits I make on the average of three times a week, and am never without. Ideally, the biscuits should be made with soft, low-gluten Southern winter flour, such as White Lily, Red Band, or Martha White, but given the difficulty in obtaining these premium flours outside the South, an acceptable substitute can be made by combining two parts of regular all-purpose flour with one part cake flour. Here are the basic rules for biscuit perfection: Never premix all the ingredients and allow the dough to stand even a short amount of time before baking. Do not roll the dough out, but rather pat it out with your fingers. Stir and handle the dough as little as possible to prevent toughness. Cut out the biscuits only with a sturdy, sharp, metal biscuit cutter to allow air to escape from the dough. And for even baking and no burnt bottoms, always use a heavy baking sheet (preferably one with no lips except on one side). There are about a hundred secondary rules that should be observed, but these you’ll learn gradually after making maybe ten dozen batches of biscuits.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup chilled vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup regular buttermilk

Method

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter or rub with your fingertips till the mixture is mealy. Gradually add the buttermilk, stirring with a wooden spoon just till the dough is soft and slightly sticky. (Do not overmix.)

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and, using a light touch, turn the edges toward the middle, pressing with your hands. Press the dough out ½ inch thick and cut straight down into even rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Pat the scraps together and cut out more rounds. Arrange the rounds on a baking sheet no more than ½ inch apart and bake in the upper third of the oven till lightly browned on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve piping hot.