When traveling to different parts of the Continental United States, I’ve been amazed to find that what people call “homemade biscuits” range from a yeast roll to something that resembles a biscuit that can be bought in fast-food restaurants. It seems there are no real old-fashioned Southern homemade biscuits anywhere except parts of the deep south, particularly in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.
A real homemade biscuit to me is a light, fluffy biscuit with a golden crust on the top and bottom that holds together and doesn’t crumble when you dredge it through a plate of tomato gravy. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? So, how are these elusive and rare, light and fluffy biscuits made?
Let me share with you the biscuit recipe that was passed down to me from my mother, and down to my mother by my grandmother, and so on. You get the picture. My dad also made biscuits and often talked about the time during the Great Depression when his family lived with their grandparents, and with about 18 people in the house, they made biscuits in a huge enamel washtub using fresh buttermilk and hog lard. Hard times, but great biscuits!
Since starting to make biscuits at the age of 10, I’ve had a lot of practice and didn’t realize how rare it is to find someone who makes these biscuits the old-fashioned way until recent years. It seems that wherever I go, my family and friends, all want biscuits at least once during my visits. So, let’s get started.
Assemble Your Biscuit-Making Equipment & Ingredients
As when making anything, we must assemble the required equipment and ingredients before we begin:
- Bowl: First, we need a Bowl large enough to work the dough. I use a pottery bowl that is only used for biscuits. I refer to it as my “dedicated biscuit bowl,” but any bowl that is at least a 3-quart will do. A 5-quart bowl is even better.
- Sifter: A sifter to sift the flour before and after making biscuits. Sift the flour before making biscuits to aerate the flour and make sure there are no lumps. Sift the flour when finished as the flour that is left in the bowl after the biscuits are made can be reused, and the sifting will make sure there are no little crumbs of the biscuit dough left.
- Skillet or Griddle: A Cast Iron Skillet or Griddle that is at least 10-1/2” in diameter is best, but two smaller skillets or griddles can be used. Using an iron skillet will result in a crisp crust on the bottom of the biscuits that you won’t get if using a stainless steel or aluminum pan. The 10-½” size pan will just hold one batch of biscuits made by this recipe.
- Flour: 8 – 10 cups of Self-rising Flour, any brand. I prefer the Martha White brand but cannot detect a significant difference in the biscuits if using another brand, including any store brand.
- Oil, Shortening, or Butter: 2 to 3 Tablespoons of Oil (I prefer Canola), Shortening, Butter or margarine.
- Milk: 3/4 cup Buttermilk and 3/4 cup Sweet Milk. Using all buttermilk will make the biscuits too heavy, but half buttermilk gives the biscuits a delicious and distinctive taste. If you don’t have buttermilk, don’t sweat it. Sweet milk biscuits are good, too. Note: Reconstituted powdered milk or half evaporated milk and half water can also be used, but the biscuits won’t be as light and fluffy. (Note: Try using all buttermilk and leaving out the oil sometime. The results are superb but they are flakier and tend to crumble!)
1.Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.Wash hands thoroughly, making sure nails are clean.
3. Grease skillet with oil, shortening, or butter.
4. Sift the flour into the bowl and make a well in the center of the flour with your hand.
5. Pour oil into the well and add buttermilk and sweet milk.
6. Wash hands thoroughly, dry with clean towel and don’t touch anything.
7. Place the fingers of one hand into the milk and start swirling slowly while dragging your fingers through the oil and mixing oil and milk thoroughly. Continue the swirling motion and drag your fingers through the flour to begin incorporating the flour slowly into the milk and oil mixture. Do not rush this process. The milk, oil, and flour mixture will begin to thicken.
8. When the mixture is the consistency of thick pudding, start pulling the sides into the middle all the way around until the dough is no longer sticky and can be picked up and handled.
9. Wash your hands again and continue with clean hands.
10. Take a little flour and rub them between your hands and lift the dough and work into a cylindrical shape and start squeezing or pinching off sections that are approximately the size of a large egg.
11. As you pinch off a section, roll it between your palms and place it into the greased skillet, patting the top of each biscuit gently. Continue with the rest of the dough. You might need to rub a little flour between your palms to keep the dough from sticking to your hands, but only a small amount. You don’t want an excessive amount of flour on the biscuits. The biscuits can touch in the skillet but don’t crowd them.
12. Place skillet into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes. When biscuits are done, they will be golden brown on top and bottom. Turn onto a plate or platter and serve!
How To Serve Biscuits
- Biscuits can be served plain with a cup of coffee or glass of milk.
- Buttered biscuits. Try buttering the biscuits while hot so that the butter melts throughout the entire biscuit. Delish!!
- Bacon or sausage biscuits.
- Biscuits with grits and fried or scrambled eggs.
- Biscuits with sausage gravy.
- Buttered biscuits with jam, jelly, or preserves.
- Biscuits with cane syrup or molasses.
For Lunch or Dinner
- Biscuits with fried chicken and rice and gravy.
- Biscuits with roast and rice and gravy.
- Biscuits with beef, chicken, or pork stew. Iv. Biscuits with ham and mashed potatoes.
How to Make Better Biscuits? Practice Practice Practice
It takes a lot of practice to work the dough to just the right consistency. Don’t give up if you don’t get it right the first time. Practice makes perfect! It took years of making biscuits before mine could even in some small way compare to my mother’s. Making good biscuits is truly an art form.
Adjusting Biscuit Batch Size
1&½ cups of milk will make 15-17 biscuits. For a smaller batch, reduce milk to 1 cup for approximately 11-13 biscuits. For a larger batch of biscuits, increase milk to 2 cups. However, I rarely use more than 1&½ cups per batch and prefer to make a second batch for more biscuits. I have made as many as 4 batches for a large crowd. A larger bowl would be needed for a larger batch in order to work the batter sufficiently.
Should I Pinch or Roll My Biscuits?
Many people who make Southern biscuits prefer not to pinch off their dough but instead, they roll their dough on a floured surface and cut with either a cookie cutter or glass. This just comes down to personal preference. My sister cuts her’s, but I prefer the pinch method.
- Bowl – If you don’t have a mixing bowl, a large pot like a Dutch oven can be used.
- Sifter – Many modern kitchens do not contain a sifter, but a wire strainer can be used. Just shake the strainer or tap it with your other hand to sift the flour faster.
- Skillet or Griddle – Cast iron is the best skillet or griddle to bake your biscuits in, but any cookie sheet, baking pan, pie, cake, or pizza pan can be substituted. You just won’t get the crusty bottom.
- Flour – Plain flour can be used instead of self-rising. Just add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 Tablespoon of baking powder to your milk and oil mixture.
- Oil – Almost any type of oil or butter can be used to make biscuits, but olive oil can be tasted in the biscuits unless it is extra light.
- Milk – I prefer using whole or 2% milk, but skim milk can be used. However, when using skim milk, the texture of the biscuits will be a little “tighter.”
- Buttermilk – I haven’t noticed a significant difference in the biscuits when different types of buttermilk are used. For example, I use reduced-fat buttermilk and the biscuits are as good as when whole buttermilk is used.
My husband thinks I should not give away my “secret.” Even so, I was recently asked to teach the kids at my high school alma mater how to make biscuits since the home economics teacher thinks mine are the best she has ever had. This guide along with the YouTube video below are my gift to the students and to posterity. Let’s face it: A world with better biscuits is a better world for all!
Besides, although there are many different recipes or ways to make homemade biscuits, the old-fashioned Southern way is easy, fast, and the results are delicious, light, and flaky biscuits that are sure to please. They only require a few ingredients, self-rising flour, some type of oil, and milk, buttermilk, or a combination of the two. It takes approximately 10 minutes to prepare the dough and 20 minutes to bake the biscuits, so not a lot of time is required. If you have never had the Southern homemade biscuits made the old fashioned way, give it a try! You and your family are in for a treat!