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Flaky Biscuits from the Best

Texas' Best Biscuit Maker Shares His Secrets
by John Raven, Ph.B.

Shortly after man learned to grind wheat, the biscuit was invented. This tasty little treat has been around so long that its name has come to mean different things in different parts of the world. In most of Europe a biscuit is a cookie. The British call our version of the biscuit a scone. The origin of the word biscuit comes from the Romance Languages (twice baked). The Italian biscuit is biscotti.

Our biscuit is once baked and soft on the inside. It will get softer inside with age. The storied hardtack biscuits are unleavened, hard-baked little rounds that will last forever if kept dry. They were popular with sailors, soldiers and pioneers. They had a texture about like a flint rock and required soaking in some liquid to be consumed.

Here in the US of A there are three kinds of biscuits: baking powder biscuits, buttermilk biscuits and canned biscuits.

In the Deep South, the buttermilk biscuit is most popular. It varies from the baking powder biscuit of Texas and the Southwest as it contains baking soda long with the buttermilk. The baking soda reacting with the buttermilk is supposed to give you a lighter biscuit.

We have subspecies of the buttermilk biscuit and the baking powder biscuit in drop biscuits and rolled biscuits. Drop biscuits are made by dropping spoonfuls of dough onto the cooking surface, and the rolled variety is flattened and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or an old tin can. The dough is seldom rolled but that sounds better than patted-out biscuits.

The canned biscuits come in a myriad of styles and flavors. The canned biscuit has its place in society, but it is low on the totem pole of real cooking.

My mother made rolled baking powder biscuits. When she was young, my mama worked for a family by the name of Bland. The Blands were rather wealthy and part of upper class society in Taylor, Texas. Mama said Mrs. Bland wanted "biscuits about the size of a silver dollar" and Mr. Bland wanted "biscuits as big as a saucer". Mama was a pretty fair hand at biscuit making.

I consider myself to be the best biscuit maker in Texas at this writing. I favor drop biscuits, as they don't require making the mess of flour and rolling pin. I like to keep things simple when doing my survival cooking. I might get a little fancy when I' m showing off. Here is my base recipe:

Raven's Quick & Easy Biscuits

Biscuit Recipes
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening (butter flavored is best; shortening should be very cold from the refrigerator)
  • Ice water
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until coarse crumbs are formed. Add water to make soft dough.

Turn out on board and knead until smooth and not sticky.

Pat out to 1/2-inch thick and cut into size desired. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

For drop biscuits, add more water and drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Several of us old vets were camped at Camp Quihi in Medina County, Texas. On the second morning we discovered we did not have enough unbleached flour to make the Dutch oven biscuits. We added a cup of whole wheat flour and came up with a great camp-style biscuit.

Quihi Biscuits

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • Water
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in shortening. Add enough water to make a stiff dough. Turn out on floured board and knead lightly.

Form by hand into biscuits about two inches in diameter and three-quarters of an inch thick. (These will not rise as much as regular biscuits, so they need to be thicker.)

Preheat Dutch oven. Put biscuits in oven and bake with coals on top and bottom for about 15 minutes. Remove bottom heat and finish baking from top only. When they are golden brown, they are done. For regular oven, bake at 425°F until done.

Going on to mainstream biscuits, here are two to get you started.

Buttermilk Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 5 tablespoons chilled shortening
  • 1 cup buttermilk
Mix the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening. Add buttermilk and stir into a stiff dough. You can adjust dough thickness with amount of buttermilk you use.

Handling the dough as little as possible, pat out to a half-inch thickness and cut into rounds. Bake in preheated 425°F oven 12-15 minutes.

Baking Powder Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk
Mix and bake as for Buttermilk Biscuits.

Note that the recipes call for chilled shortening. That really improves the texture of the biscuits. You can measure the shortening out and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes. Use ice cold buttermilk, plain milk or water.

It takes a little practice to make a prize-winning biscuit. Don't be disappointed if your first effort is a bit less than what you expected. Your biscuits will still be better than your neighbor's.

Canned biscuits

"You can't get the dough too wet; about a mouthful of buttermilk is all it takes."
Canned biscuits came out in 1930. They didn't really become popular until after WWII when everyone got a refrigerator. Canned biscuits have their place in our society. They are not real biscuits by any means but, hey, they come in cardboard tubes.

There is large variety of types and flavors of canned biscuits. You just have to shop around until you find what you like. Follow package directions.

One of our legendary camp cooks, the late Troy King, was famous around Luckenbach for his fried biscuits. Troy would bring up to frying heat about three pounds of Crisco shortening in a cast iron pot. Canned biscuits were added one at a time to keep them from sticking together. Hot melted Crisco was spooned over the tops of the biscuits until they were judged to be done. The biscuits went from fryer to a large pile of paper towels to absorb the excess Crisco. The biscuits never lasted long enough to get cold. When asked what brand or kind of biscuits were best for frying, Troy said, "The cheapest ones".

Here at the house, I make mini pizzas with canned "Grandes". I stack two of the biscuits and roll them out to about six inches in diameter with a rolling pin. Then I place them on a baking sheet and pinch up a rim to hold the sauce in place. Build them just like a regular pizza. You want them well browned, but not scorched. Watch them until you get the timing down.

My buddy Guich Koock, professional Texan, tells the story of a cedar chopper lady who was famous for her buttermilk biscuits. When asked the secret of her biscuits her answer was "You can't get the dough too wet; about a mouthful of buttermilk is all it takes".

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