In the South, classic Southern biscuits can be served with any meal—breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here are a few tips for making your own biscuits from scratch.
- Flour—Stir the flour before measuring to fluff it up, which will help make the biscuits light and fluffy.
- Shortening—Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. "Cutting in" distributes bits of shortening throughout the flour before liquid is added. As the biscuits bake, the shortening melts in pockets, which produce tender, flaky layers. For extra flaky biscuits, leave the shortening in larger-pea-size chunks. Lard or butter may be substituted for shortening.
- Mixing Ingredients—When combining ingredients, make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid all at once. Stir with a fork only until a soft ball of dough forms and leaves the sides of the bowl. The dough should be soft. If dough is dry, add an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons milk. Using buttermilk instead of milk will give the biscuits a tangier flavor and moist texture.
- Kneading dough—Knead by turning the dough out onto a floured surface or pastry cloth. Roll dough around to lightly coat it with flour. Knead gently and just enough to form a smooth ball, 10 to 12 times. The technique for kneading biscuit dough is much more gentle than kneading yeast dough. Overkneading will make biscuits tough.
- Rolling dough—Roll dough with a rolling pin to an even 1/2-inch thickness. Biscuits will double in height during baking. You might want to experiment with the thickness of the dough depending on your preference for thick, cakey biscuits or thinner, crisp ones.
- Baking—Bake in a preheated oven on a shiny, lightly greased baking sheet for a golden crust. Dark cookie sheets absorb heat and cause the biscuits to over-brown on the bottom. For crusty sides, place biscuits 1-inch apart. For soft sides, place biscuits close together. Brush hot biscuits with melted butter, if desired.
But remember, if you are ever in a pinch, you can always use a box of Martha White® Quick & Easy Biscuit Mixes.
You can get a different taste to your biscuits by adding an ingredient or two. Here are some of the most common ways you’ll see biscuit recipes dressed up in the South:
- Dip dough in melted butter and roll in brown sugar and cinnamon.
- Roll dough and wrap it around a sausage link for a spicy sausage roll-up.
- For moist cheese biscuits, add 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese to flour.
- Add Italian seasoning to flour, roll dough, and cut into thin strips for breadsticks.
Country Ham Biscuits
Ask any savvy host in the South what the most popular special-occasion menu item is and you'll likely get one answer: the country ham biscuit. No matter the occasion, casual or elegant, they fit right in. They'll show up at tailgating and football parties, on the holiday cocktail circuit, with breakfast, on the brunch buffet, for New Year's Eve, and again on New Year's Day.
There are rules for making truly exceptional country ham biscuits, and the folks in the Martha White Kitchen have spent a good amount of time researching and debating the issue. We think the finest country ham biscuits come it three distinct styles:
- One is a flaky, thin, crisp biscuit that splits easily, but doesn't crumble as you bite into the chewy cured ham. The ingredients are the same, but the proportions are varied slightly. To make a thin, crisp biscuit, the shortening that is cut in to the self-rising flour must be left in larger-pea-sized pieces and the dough rolled out thinner—like in this recipe for Perfect Biscuits for Country Ham.
- The second popular biscuit for country ham is what some call "bride's" or "angel" biscuits. These biscuits have a softer crumb and crust. And this time, the self-rising flour is combined with a little yeast for flavoring and to lighten the texture of the dough. The origin of the yeast biscuit is unknown but seems to have surfaced in Southern cookbooks and in newspaper food sections during the 1950s. Alice Jarman, the founder of the Martha White Kitchen, developed a version for the company that was publicized across the South called "Riz" Biscuits. These biscuits became preferred carriers for country ham because of their light texture and good keeping qualities.
- The 21st century brings a third variation to the evolution of the country ham biscuit. Country Ham Biscuit Bites are all-in-one drop biscuits made with the same traditional ingredients. Bits of country ham are stirred right into the soft dough. These crisp, bite-size snacks are as versatile as any traditional ham biscuit, but offer added convenience. Just stir up the batter, dollop the dough onto a baking sheet, and bake. You can even add a cup of cheddar cheese for a rich, tangy variation. They taste great served warm from the oven or made ahead and served at room temperature.
Dumplings are a form of biscuit, cooked in a pot instead of the oven. There are two types of dumplings, rolled and dropped. For rolled dumplings, the dough is rolled to about 1/8-inch thickness, cut into strips or squares, and gently lowered into simmering broth. Drop dumplings are made with a softer biscuit dough that’s simply dropped by spoonfuls into the pot. You can try making them both ways in this Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings recipe.
Real Southern Shortcake
Real shortcake is not a cake, but a buttery, lightly sweetened biscuit that can stand up to a soaking from juicy berries without turning into a soggy mess. Just before preparing the shortcake, toss the cut fruit with sugar to sweeten it and bring out the juices. By the time the shortcake is done, the sweetened fruit will be bathed in juicy nectar. Here’s one of our go-to recipes for making classic Southern Biscuit Shortcakes with strawberries.