Like many people in the South, I grew up eating a lot of biscuits. My grandma made the best ones I have ever eaten. They were thin, crisp, buttery, and hand-patted (never cut). I have tried over the years to create a biscuits like hers, but like many things that you grow up eating, the ones you make never taste as good as the ones you remember. My aunt has come as close as anyone to recreating those biscuits, and while hers are also delicious, I still have not mastered it. I will keep trying.
In the meantime, when I want homemade biscuits, these are most often the ones I turn to. They rise beautifully, are slightly crusty on top, fluffy within, and have the unmistakable tang of buttermilk. The original recipe ran in the October/November 2010 issue of Cook's Country magazine under the name "Light and Fluffy Biscuits". As an off-shoot of Cook's Illustrated, their test kitchens tried various ways to make biscuits that would rise evenly, and in this cook's opinion, they succeeded wonderfully. These biscuits never fail to be fluffy, even, and beautiful which is why I am electing to rename them "No-Fail Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits".
So, until I master my grandma's version, these are the ones I will be baking.
No-Fail Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits- makes 12 biscuits
Recipe slightly adapted from Cook's Country
While this recipe uses vegetable shortening as a portion of the fat, I have also used lard with good results. Go with what you have on hand.
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 Tbsp vegetable shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Cut the butter and shortening into 1/2 inch pieces and chill until very cold.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients until combined. Add the fat, and pulse until it resembles coarse crumbs. This step can also be done by hand using a pastry blender.
Place the flour mixture into a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the buttermilk into the center, and pull the flour mixture into the buttermilk using a wooden spoon until the two are combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead 10 times. Form the dough into a smooth ball, and roll the dough into a 9 inch circle (3/4 inch thick).
Using a floured 2 1/2 inch round cutter (other sizes may be used but it will alter baking time), cut rounds of dough and place them upside down on the baking sheet. Placing the dough upside down is very important as it ensures an even rise. Roll the scraps of dough into a 3/4 inch thick circle, and cut the remaining biscuits.
Bake the biscuits until they begin to rise, 5 minutes. Then rotate the pan, reduce heat to 400 degrees, and continue baking 10-12 minutes. Serve the biscuits hot with melted butter, jam, or other spread of choice.