A biscuit, in theory, is one of the easiest foods to make-mix fat into flour, add liquid to the proper consistency and bake. In reality, making a really good biscuit has been one of the hardest things for me to master. They always seem to be a little too dense, or not quite flakey enough, or raggedy looking. Something was always not quiet right and the whole process would usually end with a mediocre biscuit and me questioning my baking skills. How could I have graduated pastry school knowing how to temper chocolate and make croissants and sugar roses but not know how to make an (expletive) biscuit?!?
Until now! My faith in myself has been restored with this one beautiful biscuit.
Turns out, I had been making biscuits all wrong. Forget butter, it is too dense, just like that biscuit that made me bashful about my strawberry shortcake. Enter lard, butters light, flake inducing replacement. But not just any lard, skip the store bought stuff, (it’s super piggy tasting and hydrogenated to extend shelf life) pull out your stock pot and render your own. (technique below)
The second secret to drool worthy, perfect biscuits is White Lily Flour. White Lily Flour has long been known as the secret to good Southern biscuits, but it is hard to find. I got mine in a care package from my mom who had been visiting Tennessee (aren’t moms the best!) but you can also buy it online. People swear by the self-rising version, but both the flour I had and the recipe I trust called for the plain stuff. White Lily Flour is a soft wheat flour, made only from soft winter wheat which is low in protein and gluten. It is soft and silky in texture and makes an exceptional biscuit that almost melts in your mouth.
I used the recipe for Hot Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. It is one of my most treasured cookbooks and an incredible resource for both Southern Cooking and using the bounty of the land. The recipe calls for homemade baking powder (1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons baking soda) I didn’t have any cream of tartar so I used store bought baking powder. I also didn’t have any buttermilk so I made my own by adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the 1 and 1/4 cups of milk the recipe called for and letting it sit for 5 or 10 minutes before using.
5 cups White Lily Flour, sifted
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup lard, cold
1 and 1/4 cups soured milk, chilled
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients to combine. Cut in the chilled lard, working as quickly as possible (you want the lard to stay cold) and rub between your fingertips until the mixture resembled bread crumbs with some larger 1/2″ chunks remaining. Add sour milk and stir until just barely incorporated. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead quickly a few times until dough comes together. ( Do not overwork-you don’t want to knead more than 10 or so times.)
Pat with your hands or a rolling pin until the dough is about 3/4″ thick all over. Cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter, never twisting the cutter, just straight up and down. Poke each biscuit with the prongs of a fork. Transfer biscuits to a parchement lined cookie sheet so they just barely touch.
Bake 10-12 minutes, spinning halfway, until the biscuits are golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.
Try not to eat them all yourself. I served mine with Apricot Butter I made here.
How to Render Lard
Pork Back Fat (or leaf fat, if you are lucky enough to find it)
Remove any remaining meat from fat and grind in a meat grinder on coarsest setting. If you don’t have meat grinder you can chop the fat coarsely.
Keep fat skimmed off before crackling settle to the bottom seperate from fat skimmed off after cracklins settle. The first fat will be for pastry and have no porky taste, the subsequent skimmings will have a slightly piggy taste and is perfect for savory applications. I also saved the bottom of the pot rendered lard which I poured through a sieve to catch all the gunk. I will save this for cooking eggs with and have it labeled “porky” in the photo below. The lard will look yellow when warm, but as it cools it will become snow white.