Some cookbooks have recipes for angel biscuits. These are not those biscuits.
These biscuits, funnily enough, came about because of my years at St. George’s Camp at Shrine Mont, in the Shenandoah mountains. I don’t remember eating biscuits at home, so they were a big treat for me at camp. They came along with Shrine Mont‘s famous fried chicken (which was quite good as well, I think, though of course I eschewed it for the last couple years of camp) and I think that at any rate, I usually ate a far greater volume of biscuits than I did chicken.
Chicken has been totally out of my diet since camp days, but my love of biscuits remains; this is the recipe I use to feed that hankering. I didn’t know how to make biscuits when I first started cooking in earnest when I went away to college in 1993, and I tried a number of recipes until I hit on one from The Bread Book by Betsy Oppeneer. She calls hers “Southern-Style Biscuits,” but I think Evil Biscuits (as opposed to yeast-raised Angel Biscuits) is more telling. I have adapted the recipe quite broadly – the original called for lard, which may have also been what made the Shrine Mont biscuits so good, but is not going to find a home with me. I’m also giving the option of white whole-wheat flour – it makes an equally good, if slightly different biscuit. Finally, I use yogurt in these more often than I do buttermilk – I have more uses for leftover yogurt – and guess what? It works great and maybe it’s a little better for you.
Preheat the oven to 450.
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur. I often make these with all white whole wheat, which makes them heartier and stronger-tasting. If you want to make them a bit healthier but still light, up to half of the unbleached all-purpose flour can be replaced with a white whole-wheat flour.)
2 t. cream of tartar
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
10 T. butter, cold, cut into small pieces (I warned you: Evil.)
1 1/4 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt (I use organic Stonyfield Farms brand – you can use fat free, lowfat, or full fat. I did once have the tops of my biscuits slide off when I used full fat, but ugly biscuits still taste good.)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms pea- and rice-sized pieces. Add the buttermilk or yogurt and toss gently with a fork or dough whisk to combine.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently 4 or 5 times, folding the mass over on itself more than using the heel-and-turn motion used for bread. I know it looks at first like it will never come together, but it will. This folding starts to create the layers that make the biscuits puff up. Do this just until the mixture holds together enough to be rolled, lightly flour your rolling pin, and roll the dough out to a 1/2 in. thickness. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, to finish creating the layers, and roll to 3/4 in. thickness. Cut biscuits with a lightly floured biscuit cutter or glass. Press the cutter or glass straight down without twisting. If you twist, your biscuits will not rise as they should. Pat the scraps together as much as you can and cut more biscuits. You can re-roll after you get as many out by patting together if you like, but re-rolled biscuits will not be as tender.
If you like crisp sides, put the biscuits about 2 in. apart on a ungreased large baking sheet. If you like soft sides, put them closer. Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking if you know your oven is uneven. Serve hot with honey or preserves. Collect compliments.