About five years ago I read Joy of Cooking's biscuit recipe and decided to give it a try. In less than half an hour I had hot, flaky biscuits coming out of the oven, and was slathering them with quickly melting butter. I've never gone back to biscuits-from-a-can since.
Homemade biscuits are extremely easy to make; the only major ingredients they require are flour, butter, and milk. As with pie crust, the only gadget that can help is a pastry blender, a tool that helps cut cold butter into flour; you can use knives, forks, or fingers instead of a pastry blender, but it will make the process easier.
Since we just made some biscuits for breakfast yesterday morning, they're today's post in honor of cooking week.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk
Butter or milk to brush on the biscuits before baking (optional)
0. Preheat the oven to 450F.
1. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Cut the butter into approximately tablespoon size pieces, and add it to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (or two knives, a fork, or your fingers) cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces of butter are approximately the size of peas (or smaller). As with pie dough, it is critical that the butter not melt during this step (or later).
3. Add the milk and stir to mix (I usually add a tablespoon or two of extra milk at this point; I have no idea if it helps or not).
4. Once the milk is mixed in, knead the dough in the bowl approximately 5-10 times. This can be very quick and simple kneading: just gather the dough into a rough ball, smoosh it down, fold it in half, and then repeat. There is no need to get fancy or take a lot of time.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll (or just pat) the dough until it is approximately 3/4" thick (or the thickness you prefer; I like thick biscuits).
6. Cut the dough into whatever size biscuits you want (I typically do ~2-3" squares/rectangles).
7. Arrange the biscuits on a cookie sheet (I space them ~2" apart, though you can also put them right next to each other so they fuse while baking) and bake for 10-15 minutes (or until the tops and bottoms are nicely browned).
8. Serve hot, preferably with lots of butter and honey.
If you don't want to bother with the kneading and rolling, you can make drop biscuits instead. To do this, increase the volume of milk to 1 cup, which makes the dough softer. Spoon this dough straight onto the baking sheet (~1-2 tablespoons of volume per biscuit) and bake for ~12 minutes. The biscuits are smaller and don't have as much flaky internal surface area to spread with butter, but they are faster and easier to make.
You can cut the biscuits into any shape you want before baking. I used to make quite a fuss over using circular biscuit cutters, which entailed re-rolling the dough multiple times to use all the leftover dough bits. I have since decided that cutting the biscuits into rectangles is much easier. I don't even bother with trying to get the edges of the dough straight; the biscuits taste the same with rounded edges, and it's a lot faster to just slice away after quickly rolling out the dough into a rough circle.
Joy of Cooking recommends brushing the biscuits with butter or milk before baking to enhance browning; I rarely do this.
This recipe is based on one in Rombauer et al. (1997).
Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.