The number one problem with biscuits, if you ask anyone who cares about biscuits, is getting stuck with one so pasty and dry that no slather of butter or jam can redeem it. It's as bad as being presented with a trampled-looking well done steak, when you ordered medium rare. Maybe worse.
A foolproof solution comes to us from none other than Shirley Corriher -- chemist, baker and author of CookWise and BakeWise -- who recreated her grandmother's technique after too many problem biscuits of her own. (Granny said to add "a touch of grace", and an iconic recipe was born.)
So: the answer to dry biscuits? Make them wet. Really, really wet. If you take a suspiciously moist batter and put it in a hot oven, you get steam, which puffs up the biscuits and makes them airy inside, while still sizzling up a great crust.
They're downright meditative to assemble -- after pinching together the dry ingredients with a bit of shortening (or butter or lard, for you purists), you stir in cream and buttermilk until it looks like cottage cheese, per Corriher's instructions. "It should be a wet mess," she says.
So even if your spooned-and-leveled cups of flour turn out to be more loaded than Corriher's, or it's a humid day (two things that can really affect the outcome of batters and doughs), you'll still be okay -- because you just keep pouring and stirring until it looks like something that couldn't possibly stand up and become a biscuit.
What keeps the biscuits from spilling all over is this fun step: you plop your batter (from an ice cream scoop!) into a pie plate full of flour, then toss it all around and let the flour fall through your fingers until you're left with just a lump of dough bound together by a thin skin of flour. (Don't wear black -- you're going to get floured.)
Then you roll them into your buttered cake pan, nudging them all up against each other, so none have a chance to fall flat. They get steamy, soft middles while the tops and outer edges turn coppery and crisp. (See a great video of Corriher demonstrating the technique here.)
Be warned: these are not your tall, proud, layer-upon-flaky-layer biscuits. Those are their own animal, and require thoughtful folding and cutting. Corriher's are a humbler beast, but just as good (and arguably much easier to throw together).
They're squat little puffs you'll want to grab, steaming, from a basket passed over fried chicken or bacon and eggs. You'll want to make them with your kids. You'll want to whip them up, and then tear them apart, with unexpected guests. You'll want to turn to them when you're alone and in the mood for biscuits, because they're so moist, they're actually still good after a day or two, with a quick warm-up in the oven. And you'll definitely want to pour gravy all over them.
Shirley Corriher's Touch-of-Grace Biscuits
Note: Corriher, ever the scientist and tinkerer, published one version of this recipe in CookWise in 1997, and a fairly different one in BakeWise in 2008. We tried and loved both, the newer one edged out (she knows her tinkering).
Butter for greasing, or nonstick cooking spray 2 cups (9 oz/255 g) spooned and leveled self-rising flour (low-protein Southern U.S. flour like White Lily or any self-rising flour) 1/4 cup sugar (or less, if you prefer your biscuits less sweet) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup shortening 2/3 cup heavy cream 1 cup buttermilk, or enough for dough to resemble cottage cheese (if you are not using low-protein flour, it will take more than 1 cup) 1 cup plain all-purpose flour, for shaping 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."