My son enjoys cooking, and is very good at it, but his scientist training attracts him to difficult recipes or those with a lot of instructions. This is the edited version of Peter’s biscuits. As I was collecting biscuit recipes from all of the good bakers in the family, I asked Peter for his version. He sent me some copious notes in addition to the recipe:  Don’t use rancid shortening. Probably the voice of experience.  Use a pastry blender, although a large spoon works fine.  Biscuits mix better on wood than Formica because the wood grain holds the flour.  To re-heat a day-old biscuit, put it inside a plastic bag and warm it for a few seconds in the microwave; then put it in the toaster oven for the final warm-up to remove the sogginess of the microwave. All useful suggestions either for the neophyte or experienced biscuit baker.
Other suggestions include:  the shortening in this recipe is on the low end of most recipes which go all the way up to 6 tablespoons of fat. The lower amounts of shortening produce flakier biscuits, the larger amounts produce soft biscuits. It’s only a matter of preference. Butter has more water content than vegetable shortening, so the finished biscuit is softer. Bacon grease is a good substitute, but it ought to be solid – not melted.  The less manipulation of the dough after you have added liquid the better. Folding is better than kneading so you get flaky layers.  Cold is better than warm. Be sure to chill the flour mixture before you add the liquid to get the flakiest biscuits.  Biscuits squeezed together in a cake pan will rise higher than those spread out on a baking sheet.
Peter learned the original, non-scientific version of his recipe from his maternal grandmother and then passed it on to his younger sister, who is a professional chef. She has worked in well-known restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. A common tradition in all of these places is the “family meal”. Chefs and cooks take turns preparing a meal for cooks and wait staff before evening service begins. The kitchen crews in all of those places are used to complex meals with expensive ingredients. Yet in every single one of them, when Sarah cooks “family meal”, cheers inevitably go up for her biscuits and barbecued brisket. There is never a single biscuit left when service starts.
In fact, the biscuits are so popular with restaurant staff that they will go to great lengths to get their share. One time a baking sheet of hot biscuits had just come out of the oven, ready to be passed around the table. Before anyone knew what was happening, the pan crashed to the floor, and the biscuits spilled out. Next stop for the biscuits was the trash barrel in spite of the cries of the hungry staff. One frustrated cook leaped up and went head down into the trash barrel to retrieve those precious gems.
PETER AND SARAH’S FAMILY MEAL BISCUITS
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons shortening (Crisco much preferred)
- ¾ cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 450º.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
- Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the mixture is consistent and the size of small peas.
- The biscuits will be flakier if you chill the dry mixture in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
- Add the milk, and mix with a fork, being careful not to over-mix.
- Turn the dough onto a heavily floured surface. Knead the dough gently by pressing and folding. Don’t overdo it! Four foldings should be enough, and more than six is too many. Coat the dough with flour before the final folding to make splitting the biscuits easier.
- Pat the dough into a flat rectangle about ¼ to ½ inches thick. Using a two-inch biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Gather up the scraps, pat them together and flatten them, cutting biscuits until the dough is used up.
- Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until done.
Yield: Between 12 and 24 biscuits depending on size and thickness