A genius technique for guarding against dry biscuits. Food scientist and baking expert Shirley Corriher says the dough "should be a wet mess" -- a moist dough steams up into fluffy biscuits in a hot oven, and a low-protein self-rising flour like White Lily will make them extra tender, if you can get it. 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. Note: If you can't find self-rising flour, substitute 2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder, and increase the salt to 1 teaspoon. This version is adapted slightly from BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking (Scribner, 2008). —Genius Recipes
12 to 14 medium biscuits
Butter for greasing, or nonstick cooking spray
(9 ounces/255 g) spooned and leveled self-rising flour (preferably low-protein Southern U.S. flour like White Lily)
sugar (or less, if you prefer your biscuits less sweet)
buttermilk, or enough for dough to resemble cottage cheese (if you are not using low-protein flour, it will take more than 1 cup)
plain all-purpose flour, for shaping
unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and arrange a shelf slightly below the center of the oven. Butter an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the self-rising flour, sugar, and salt. Work the shortening in with your fingers until there are no large lumps. Gently stir in the cream, then some of the buttermilk until dough resembles wet cottage cheese. It should be a wet mess -- not soup, but cottage-cheese texture. If you are not using a low-protein flour, this may take considerably more than 1 cup of buttermilk.
Spread the plain all-purpose flour (not self-rising) out on a plate or pie pan. With a medium (about 2 inches, #30) ice cream scoop or spoon, place three or four scoops of dough well apart in the flour. Sprinkle flour over each. Flour your hands. Turn a dough ball in the flour to coat, pick it up, and gently shape it into a round, shaking off the excess flour as you work. Place this biscuit in the prepared pan. Coat each dough ball in the same way and place each shaped biscuit scrunched up against its neighbor so that the biscuits rise up and don't spread out. Continue scooping and shaping until all dough is used.
Place the pan on the arranged shelf in the oven. Bake until lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Brush with the melted butter. Invert onto one plate, then back onto another. With a knife or spatula, cut quickly between biscuits to make them easy to remove. Serve immediately. "Butter 'em while they're hot."
Note: Do not use self-rising flour for shaping, as the leavener will give a bitter taste to the outside of the biscuits.