Yield: about a dozen 2-inch biscuits

Cook’s notes: These biscuits need three things: bleached, all-purpose Southern flour (that is, a low-protein flour such as White Lily); buttermilk (yes, in desperation you could leave out the baking soda and use regular milk, but why bother making them then?); and a light hand. The dough should be moist, and you should gently pat, not roll, it out. This recipe calls for baking them on a sheet, but if you keep a cast-iron skillet handy, put it in the oven while the oven preheats, and when the biscuits are cut, pull it out, swirl a knob of butter in the hot pan to melt it, then add the biscuits and bake. Note that as with most scones and biscuits, you can also place the dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and freeze them solid. Store in a plastic freezer bag, and then bake them, frozen, whenever you want a few (it will take at least 5 minutes longer to bake the frozen ones). If you use shortening (I prefer the taste of butter), look for one in natural foods stores that’s free of trans fats.

2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably bleached and low-protein
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, or 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or lard
3/4 cup cold buttermilk, or more as needed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Cut in butter or shortening with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few larger lumps left in (a food processor also works for hard butter, but take care not to overprocess). Pour in buttermilk and mix gently with a rubber spatula until dough starts to come together. With your hands, gently turn the dough over and over, mixing lightly, until all the flour in the bottom of the bowl is incorporated (dough should be moist; add more buttermilk a tablespoon or two at a time if needed). Transfer dough to a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Press dough out about 1/2 inch thick. Cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter, lightly flouring the cutter as needed, and pressing it straight down and back up without twisting, so the biscuits rise right. Push the scraps together and cut out remaining biscuits. Place biscuits on a parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheet.
Bake biscuits for about 10 minutes, until golden on top. Serve hot.

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