Southern-style biscuits more closely resembled a cracker at first. They were known as beaten biscuits and did not rise in the oven when baked. When the Southern part of America was first settled by Europeans, cornbread was far more popular since the humid climate was not well suited to growing wheat. Once transportation improved and wheat could be shipped in from the Midwest, biscuits became a popular alternative to cornbread.
Soft biscuits first appeared in America during the 1800s. They are often considered to be the original quick bread. By mid-century, once baking soda and baking powder became common, farmer’s wives were serving them with at least one meal a day. The biscuit dough was rolled and a drinking glass was used to cut the dough into round circles. This method was handy, but it had a habit of pinching the edges of the dough in such a way that that it would not rise fully. When sharp-edged biscuit cutters began appearing around the 1870s, it became possible to cleanly cut several biscuits at a time, at a much faster pace.
Here is my favorite way to make biscuits. The recipe is made with butter, but can easily be modified as dairy-free and vegan using the ingredient suggestions below. Both dairy and non-dairy versions of this biscuit taste buttery amazing, flaky and delish. I love topping mine with melted butter and honey, what are your favorite toppings?
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 6 tbsp salted butter, salted margarine OR buttery flavored shortening, frozen
- 1 cup milk OR unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond, cashew and soy milk work well)
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tbsp additional salted butter OR margarine
- For buttery biscuits, use butter and milk. For dairy-free vegan biscuits, use margarine or shortening and dairy-free milk in the biscuit dough, then brush with margarine.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. If you have extra time, chill dry ingredients in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before proceeding. If not, that's ok-- cold ingredients provide a better result, but it's not a requirement here.
- Add frozen butter, margarine or shortening to the bowl cut into small pieces. Use a pastry cutter or fork to combine the dry ingredients with the fat until only small pieces remain and it looks like sand.
- Whisk together milk or non-dairy milk with lemon juice.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients. Stir gently while pouring in the milk mixture 1/3 cup at a time. You may not need all of the liquid.
- Stir until just slightly combined, the mixture will be sticky.
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface, dust the top with a bit of flour and then fold the dough over on itself 4-5 times. Resist the urge to knead the dough, it will result in dense biscuits. Form into a 1-inch thick disc, handling as little as possible.
- Use a 2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter and push straight down through the dough, then slightly twist to cut out as many biscuits as possible.
- Place biscuits on a greased baking sheet in two rows, making sure they just touch along the edges. This will help them rise uniformly. Gently reform the remaining dough and cut out one or two more biscuits. You should end up with 7-8 biscuits total. Gently press a small divot in the center of each biscuit with your thumb (again, helps them rise uniformly).
- Brush biscuits with the 2 T. melted butter or margarine.
- Bake in the 450 degree oven for 20 minutes or until fluffy and golden, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
- Best if eaten while still hot, fresh from the oven.
Egerton, John, Ann Bleidt. Egerton, and Al Clayton. Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. New York: Knopf, 1987. Print.
Smith, Andrew F. Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Sohn, Mark F. Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky, 2005. Print.