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Grandma May’s Biscuits

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Grandma May’s Biscuits

Grandma May’s Biscuits
Ben Fink
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total prep
Once you have eaten these biscuits, there is no turning back. You will be hooked and spoiled for life, as I was, when my very dear friend Brett Bannon served them during a stay at our farm. Brett and his partner, Jon, are my saviors when I’m in Minneapolis, shuttling me to and from the airport and cooking classes that I’m teaching, taking me to wonderful restaurants, introducing me to friends in the community, and, above all else, welcoming me as a guest in their home. One morning, Charlie and I awoke to these biscuits, hot from the oven, pillowy tender and as flakey and delicious as you can imagine. The recipe comes from Brett’s mother, who learned how to make them from her mother, Mae Norris of Jacksonville, Florida. Brett grew up eating these biscuits every morning, waking up not to an alarm clock but to the clinking of a knife working the butter into the flour. I’ve adopted the breakfast tradition at our farm and thank him, his mother, and Grandma Mae, of course, for this beautifully simple and incredibly delicious best-ever biscuit recipe. Leaf lard is the very best rendered and clarified pork fat you can buy and makes these biscuits light and fluffy. If you can’t find it, use lard, or substitute all butter as indicated in the ingredients.

Recipe courtesy of Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country by Suvir Saran with Raquel Pelzel and Charlie Burd. Published by Chronicle Books, 2012.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups/450g self-rising flour
  • 1 cup/225g salted butter plus 5 tbsp/70g leaf lard, or 1 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp/300g salted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups/300ml heavy cream, plain yogurt, milk, buttermilk, or any combination thereof
  • Good butter (like Vermont Butter and Cheese or Kerrygold) for serving
  • Crème Frâiche, store-bought or homemade, for serving
  • Seasonal jam, store-bought or homemade, for serving

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas 6. Place 3 cups/385g of the flour in a large bowl. Chop ½ cup/115g of the butter into 1/4-inch/6-mm pieces and add it to the flour along with the leaf lard (or additional 5 tbsp/75g salted butter if not using leaf lard). Use a pastry cutter to work the fat into the flour until the mixture looks like cornmeal with pieces no larger than a small pea.
  • Pour half of the cream into the dry ingredients, using a butter knife to gently cut it into the dough. Add more cream, 2 tbsp at a time, until there are no more dry spots remaining (you may end up with a bit of liquid left over, depending on the humidity and the age of the flour).
  • Melt ¼ cup/55g of the salted butter in a 10-inch/25-cm cast-iron frying pan over low heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  • Melt the remaining ¼ cup/55g butter in a microwave-safe bowl and set aside. Place the remaining 1/2 cup/65g flour in a medium bowl. Break the dough into 11 or 12 golf ball–size portions, dust with flour, and gently flatten between your palms as if they were snowballs. Dip the top of each slightly flattened biscuit (mine end up in a somewhat hexagon shape) into the melted butter in the bowl and place in the frying pan. Place the biscuits close together so the sides are touching (don’t worry—they separate perfectly once they come out of the oven). If there is any melted butter left over in the bowl, drizzle it over the biscuits.
  • Bake until the biscuits are golden brown and nearly doubled in size, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before using a cake server to remove the biscuits from the pan (the first one is a bit tricky to unwedge, but the rest pop out easily). Serve immediately, while hot, with plenty of good butter, crème frâiche, and jam.

  • Variation: Biscuit Addendums

    Grandma Mae’s original recipe calls for self-rising flour, but I get very close using all-purpose flour to which I add 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder and 3/4 tsp salt. On rare occasions when I crave a sweet biscuit, I’ll add 2 tbsp sugar and the zest of 1 lemon to the dry ingredients. To turn the biscuits into a more savory indulgence, I add 1 tsp ajwain seeds (also called carom seeds) and 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper to the dry ingredients. Finally, if you are using sweet butter and not salted, add an additional 1/4 tsp kosher salt to your dry ingredients.