Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky all lay claim to these small, dry, crisp biscuits, but I must say that Marylanders do seem to have the knack of making them like nobody else. Conceived long before the introduction of baking powder and baking soda (in the nineteenth century) when the only means of leavening was to beat the dough hard and repeatedly with a rolling pin, hammer, or side of an axe till it blistered and turned incredibly smooth, beaten biscuits still must be whacked for at least 15 or 20 minutes and baked slowly to yield the right soft interior and crackly crust. Enthusiasts believe there simply is no other biscuit, and when a batch comes out perfect for a tea party, for a crowd of two dozen or so guests, or just for daily nibbling, you’ll understand why. The biscuits keep for up to a month in an airtight container—and, yes, they’re loads of fun to make, especially for children.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt and stir well. Add the shortening and rub it into the flour with your fingertips till the mixture is mealy. Gradually add enough of the water to form a soft dough, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and begin beating it all over with a floured rolling pin, folding it back on itself as it flattens and beating constantly till very smooth, at least 15 minutes.
Pinch off small pieces of dough about the size of a large marble, roll between the palms of your hands, and place on a baking sheet about
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