I have a lot of fond memories of these biscuits as an eight-year-old on humid summer days in my Dad’s kitchen, but I hadn’t picked up the recipe since 2005, when I began experimenting with it. Vegetable shortening was the first item on the list (I can hardly abide it). I started by reducing it to half-and-half butter and shortening , then all butter, then I got crazy and tried substituting olive oil. A lazy baker, I stopped rolling the dough and began producing oddly shaped drop biscuits. They had some flake, the familiar crumb and half the mess, but they weren’t the same.
Five years later with a quart of full-fat buttermilk in the fridge, I pulled out the old recipe. Looking it over, I saw some places I could improve on my Uncle Joe’s old biscuits. My food processor incorporated the butter and I patted out the dough by hand. That first all-butter batch was well-layered but greasy and flat. I fired up the oven again, and reduced the butter by 25 percent (leaving all other measurements alone). I processed that second batch less, froze the butter beforehand, and was constantly conscious of how much I handled the dough.
The result? Damn good (if I must say so myself).
It is important to mind the buttermilk. Only add enough to bring the dough together. The amount will vary greatly depending on the milk’s fat content and the general humidity. Next time I will try refrigerating the dough 10 minutes before baking.
[March 7, 2010 UPDATE] Retried biscuits with reduced-fat buttermilk to find that it required about the same amount (3/4 cup). Reduced butter to 1/2 cup and added 1/4 cup vegetable shortening. The texture was slightly more tender, but not enough for me to switch from the all-butter. Cooking time increased dramatically. If using shortening, add 1/4 teaspoon salt. In fact, the recipe has been adjusted for slightly more salt.
[June 13, 2010 UPDATE] Biscuit recipe performed better in the winter. Lately, they haven’t been so hot. The butter’s fat leaks out while baking and haven’t come out as fluffy. I’ve tried all different types of butter, as well as grating it rather than processing. Yesterday I added a bit of baking soda to some success.
Adapted from Joe Kadlec’s recipe
Makes about 8 3-inch biscuits
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 cup butter
- 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk (up to 1 1/4 cup)
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut butter into 1/2-inch chunks and freeze 5 to 10 minutes.
Mix dry ingredients. Add butter and process in a food processor until butter pats are pea-sized. Pour into a large bowl and add buttermilk, adding additional until dough just comes together.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Pat or roll into a 1/2-inch-thick disk and fold in half. Repeat rolling and patting once. Cut with a 3-inch glass or biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps once.
Bake biscuits on prepared baking sheet 15 minutes or until golden brown.