Long Reads

Shirley Corriher's Touch-of-Grace Biscuits

December 23, 2011

Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Never again suffer a dry biscuit, thanks to food scientist Shirley Corriher (and her grandmother).

touch of grace biscuits

- Kristen

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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.)

shirley corriher  bakewise

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.

touch of grace biscuits  touch of grace biscuits

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.)

shaping biscuits  touch of grace biscuits

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.)

touch of grace biscuits  touch of grace biscuits

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.

touch of grace biscuits

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).

Makes about 12-14 medium biscuits

Adapted slightly from BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking(Scribner, 2008)

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

See a slideshow and the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

touch of grace biscuits

Want more genius? TryAnn Seranne's Rib Roast of Beef

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


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • Peggio
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    Adrian Seltzer
  • EmilyC
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. 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."


AntoniaJames April 15, 2014
Do you think these would work well on a chicken pot pie? I hauled back a bag of White Lily flour from a trip to the southeast and plan to roast a chicken this weekend. Thank you. ;o)
Adrian S. April 15, 2014
Just make sure the filling is hot when you place them on top. You will wind up with a baked dumpling/biscuit hybrid. Should be delish.
Peggio January 9, 2014
I have made these with half and half, soy milk or skim milk when I didn't have heavy cream and they have always turned out great! The first time I tried them was after I saw Shirley make them on some cooking show and just knew they were what I was looking for all those years I tried recipe after recipe ... just plain good ol' down home biscuits, yum!
Adrian S. October 13, 2013
I took lessons with Shirley and they were amazing. I do a version of her biscuits that are a bit easier, but still come out wonderful. If you want exactly hers, you do have to use the self rising white lily flour. It really makes a difference.
EmilyC May 15, 2013
I tried these over the weekend. I really enjoyed making them -- it was kind of cool to see how the wet blobs of dough turned into delicious biscuits. The flavor was amazing but I must admit I wasn't totally satisfied with the texture, which was a little dense and "raw" in the middle (although they weren't undercooked). My dough looked like the picture above when I started scooping them. Is this the way they're supposed to be, or should I try them again?
em-i-lis May 15, 2013
Great feedback, EmilyC. I have this recipe on my to-make list but also a biscuit made with cake flour. Maybe I'll try that one first. Hard to find a good biscuit recipe!
Kristen M. May 15, 2013
Thanks for your feedback, Emily. For me, these biscuits always turn out very moist and fluffy inside, with a crisp, buttery surface -- though they're fairly small and squat compared to other tall, flaky biscuits. Dense and raw-tasting don't sound quite right -- might be worth another try! Maybe the self-rising flour didn't do its job.
EmilyC May 15, 2013
Thanks Kristen -- I'll gladly give them another go! I made them at my parents' house. Now that I'm back in Virginia, I should be able to buy White Lily flour and try them with it.
eileenmthornton April 12, 2013
WHY ON EARTH can't Food 52 images be pinned on Pinterest? It's the main way I collect recipes... please fix this.
mrslarkin April 12, 2013
go to the recipe page. It works there.
Kristen M. April 12, 2013
Sorry about this -- we're looking into it! The recipe page should hopefully work for you: http://food52.com/recipes/15432-shirley-corriher-s-touch-of-grace-biscuits
ChefJune June 19, 2012
hmmmm I have Cookwise, but I'm still making THE biscuits from a very tattered paper she handed out at a cooking class I took with her in the 80's. I wonder if that's different still? Going to try this "new" one, though.

And yes, Shirley is the scientist who makes Alton Brown sound so smart. ;)
Adrian S. January 9, 2014
I have a tattered page exactly like that from notes I took in a cooking class with her in the 80's. I must have taken 1/2 dozen classes with her. Where did you take the class? Just asking in a funny, small world kind of way. The recipes are slightly different.
kwinke January 8, 2012
Well, I tried these and the "wet mess" turned out to be way too wet... It was more of a batter trying to scoop these into the flour at the end to form the biscuit. And I ended up with an amazing pair of club hands. Really didn't work out at all in the end...with biscuits for me that were both over cooked and somehow raw and chewy in the center.

So, I guess next time I either need to watch out and use less liquid, or more flour?

Kristen M. January 9, 2012
Sorry to hear that! It is more like a batter than a dough, but it shouldn't be soup -- did yours look like the photo above?
penelopeplantlady January 8, 2012
Yes! As soon as I saw her picture, there was added validity to the recipe. I've only known her from Good Eats, and see I must delve further!
kumatank January 7, 2012
I didn't see your comment about adding baking powder until after I made these. Doh.The biscuits turned out a bit raw on the inside and really dense. It was still delicious in its own way, but next time, I'll definitely buy the self-rising flour or add baking powder.
Sherry339 December 28, 2011
Where are the instructions? When I click on the link I get a blank page... And these look sooo good!!! :-<
Kristen M. December 29, 2011
Hi Sherry339, the recipe seems like it's working now -- let me know if you still don't see it. I've noticed blank pages on other recipes recently, but when I come back 15 minutes later and refresh the page, they're back. We'll look into this!
leigh F. December 28, 2011
if you wanted to use butter instead of shortening would you use the same amount? Thanks.
Kristen M. December 29, 2011
Hi leigh frat -- yes, you can use the same amount for any solid fat. (I used bacon fat earlier this week and it worked out just great.)
LASGarcia December 27, 2011
A butler at the Soniat House in NOLA (Calvin) made biscuits each morning for us and his secret ingredient was to replace the shortening with solid coconut oil... they were out of this world.
Louisa December 26, 2011
I am reading Bakewise now, and just saw her recipe for Alabama Lane Cake. I always bake a Lane Cake for Christmas, and will definitely try Shirley's next time.
kins December 26, 2011
I clipped this recipe from the Seattle Times years ago when Shirley was in town. My kids LOVE these and they have never failed me. I mail order the White Lily flour from the Smuckers company because you can't find White Lily flour anywhere but the south. So worth finding the flour!!!
acmegumbo December 27, 2011
White Lily flour is also available on amazon.com.
JoyP December 26, 2011
I've been making these biscuits for years. They really are that easy, messy (to make but who cares?) and delicious!
crazyblues December 26, 2011
what if I don't have self rising flour?? can I make it?
Kristen M. December 26, 2011
Yes crazyblues, I made these yesterday, subbing 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 3/4 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt for the 2 cups self-rising flour (omitting the rest of the salt in the recipe) and it worked well.
thevegedge October 13, 2013
Can you post that into the recipe as an alternative so it's more accessible while baking? I can't get self-rising flour where I live. Thanks!!
Kristen M. October 13, 2013
Great idea! Just added it to the headnote.
Sugartoast December 23, 2011
My favorite biscuit recipe ever! Thanks for reminding me, they are going on the table for Christmas...
SKK December 23, 2011
Purchasing Shirley Corriher's brilliant book Cook Wise was the one thing that altered my way of cooking and the pure joy of cooking. Thrilled you are highlighting her!
mrslarkin December 23, 2011
One of my all-time favorite cookbooks! LOVE the bakery string on the cover. Gotta try these - seems crazy! She's also got a "Touch-of-Grace" scone recipe, too! Uses a little more sugar, some vanilla and additions of white chocolate chips, raspberries and orange zest.
creamtea December 23, 2011
She's a respected cook, baking authority and author in her own right! Thanks for sharing this recipe! I make a little Sunday Brunch for the family every week--but needed some new ideas.
Panfusine December 23, 2011
LOL.. its interesting how we've begun associating her with good eats rather than as an authority in her own right!