Baking Powder Biscuits

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From Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham, by Marion Cunningham.

Prep time: 20 min

Baketime: 12-15 min

Total time: About 35 min

Yield: Makes about 16 2-inch biscuits

If there is one food that symbolizes how good home cooking can be, it is Baking Powder Biscuits. Measuring and mixing them is a snap, they don’t take more than 10 minutes to make and 12 minutes to bake, and you can easily make double the amount and freeze any that you aren’t going to use right away.

You will have learned a good basic lesson in baking when you get the hang of rubbing flour and shortening together with your fingertips, until they are blended into small bits the size of grains of rice. The same technique is used to make pie crust. You can transform the plainest supper with the addition of these light, golden biscuits. Plus they can do double duty. Use them as a main-dish accompaniment, or spread them with strawberries and whipped cream for that quintessential American dessert ­ Strawberry Shortcake.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), plus a little extra for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups all-purpose white flour, plus extra for dusting your hands and the board
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

  • 1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Preparing the Pan:

  • 2. With your fingers or a paper towel, scoop up a little vegetable shortening and smear it all over the sides and the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch baking pan ­ just enough to cover it.

Putting the Ingredients Together:

  • 3. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir with a fork.
  • 4. Add 1/3 cup shortening in one piece, then roll it around in the flour to make it less sticky. Break up the lump of shortening into 4 or 5 smaller pieces and coat them with the flour mixture.

Mixing the Biscuits:

  • 5. Now you need to turn the few big clumps of shortening into many tiny lumps distributed throughout the flour. Plunge your fingers into the bowl and pick up a lump of shortening and some of the flour.
  • 6. Lightly rub the shortening and flour between your thumbs and fingers and, lifting your hands, let the blended flour and shortening fall back into the bowl. Repeat this step over and over, reaching to the bottom of the bowl and scooping up some of the loose flour, then rubbing it and the shortening into irregular bits. Work lightly ­ don’t squeeze the dough too hard. After a few minutes, when the dough has the look and feel of coarse sand, you will know that you have worked it enough.
  • 7. Add the milk to the flour and shortening and stir with a fork just enough so that the milk is mixed in with the other ingredients and there are no dry streaks of flour left. Don’t mix too much. The dough will be moist and sticky, qualities that make these biscuits rise high and taste tender.

Kneading the Dough:

    • 8. Sprinkle about 1/4-cup of flour on a large cutting board or smooth countertop and spread it out in a circle. Coat your hands with flour, then scoop the dough from the bowl and place it on the floured surface. Knead the dough as follows:
      • 9. Press down on the dough with the palm of one hand and push it away from you (if it is more comfortable, use both hands to push the dough). The dough will stretch into an oval shape.
      • 10. Lift the far end of the oval and fold it in half back toward you. Give the dough a quarter turn and press and push it away again. Repeat these steps about 10 times, using a light hand. If the dough sticks to your hands or to the board, sprinkle on a little more flour. When you have finished kneading, pat the dough into a rough circle, about 8 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick.

Cutting Out the Biscuits:

      • 11. You can cut the biscuits into any size or shape you like. I use a 2-inch round cookie cutter. If you don’t have one, use the rim of a small drinking glass to cut the dough. You can also pat the dough into a square and use a knife to cut square biscuits.
      • 12. Press the cookie cutter firmly into the dough at the edge of the circle, and then lift it off. Repeat this step, cutting the next circle close to the first. Place the rounds in the greased baking pan, leaving a little room between the biscuits. Once you have cut as many circles as you can from the dough, you will have some scraps left. Gather them up and pat the dough into a small circle, the same thickness as before, then cut out as many biscuits as you can.

Baking the Biscuits:

      • 13. Put the pan on the center rack of the oven. After 12 minutes, check to see whether the biscuits are done. They should be golden brown on top. Break one open to see if it is cooked through in the center and not sticky. If the dough feels sticky and damp, continue to bake another 3 to 5 minutes. Take the biscuits out of the oven and let them sit for about 3 minutes to cool just slightly.
      • 14. Remove them from the pan with a spatula and either serve immediately or store, tightly wrapped, for later use. Biscuits should always be served warm, so if they have cooled reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5 to 6 minutes.

Tips for Successful Biscuits

    • Measuring the Shortening:To measure shortening, use a spoon to scoop up the shortening from the can and press it into a measuring cup. Pack it down firmly as you fill the measuring cup, and level it off with a knife. Use you fingers to remove the shortening from the measuring cup, scraping around the sides and the bottom to get it all out.
    • Baking Powder:Check the expiration date on your can of baking powder. Be sure to replace it; otherwise your biscuits ­ or cakes or cookies ­ won’t rise properly.
Prep time: 
20 min
Cook time: 
12-15 min
Total time: 
About 35 min
Yield: 
Makes about 16 2-inch biscuits

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