I remember the first time I ate really great biscuits. Mattie Ball Fletcher, who was almost 100 years old at the time, made them for me in the early 1980s. She was a direct descendant of George Washington's brother, Charles.
She made buttermilk biscuits the old-time way, cutting them with a snuffbox and then pricking them with a pointed device a friend had concocted for her.
Although she gave me her recipe, I never got the biscuits just right until I took a class with food chemist Shirley Corriher, who had had the same problem with her grandmother's biscuit recipe. The secret, she found, is starting with a very wet dough, then dipping your hands in flour and, working very quickly, adding just enough flour for the biscuits to hold together. Butter tastes much better than vegetable shortening in this recipe.
Note: If you don't have a biscuit cutter, the top of a can of cooking spray works great. Resist the urge to add more flour to the dough - the wetter the dough, and the less handling, the more tender the biscuit.
MATTIE BALL FLETCHER'S
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, divided
¾ cup buttermilk
Heat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet. Sift 1½ cups of the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Add 7 tablespoons butter, working with your fingers, until the mixture has no lumps. Stir in the buttermilk and let the mixture stand for a few minutes. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup flour on a board or waxed paper. Dip your hands into the flour, then scoop up the wet dough, adding only enough flour to make it manageable. Pat the dough into a rectangle about ½-inch thick on the floured surface. Dip a 2-inch glass or a cookie cutter into the flour and then into the dough, cutting the circles and placing them on the baking sheet, 1 inch apart.
Repeat with the remaining dough, molding any scraps into circles. Prick the tops of biscuits with the tines of a fork. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan or the microwave and brush biscuits with the melted butter. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Yield: about 12 biscuits
Nutritional information per biscuit: 140 calories, 6 grams fat, 2 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates , 0 grams fiber, 250 milligrams sodium.
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