Christmas at our house is usually the occasion for a sumptuous breakfast--thick bacon, rich scrambled eggs, grits with butter, jam and biscuits, fresh orange juice. When we had small children in the house, an early pre-breakfast of quick bread (while the adults guzzled coffee) was a stop-gap that gave us the energy for opening Santy's gifts. Then came the big breakfast, meant to hold us all until the serious feasting of the afternoon. Christmas, in other words, was cooking.
It still is....just on a smaller scale. It's not so much the permanent diet I'm on, it's the flagging energy. Wasn't Thanksgiving just yesterday? This year's 'feast' will be a modest dinner with grilled steak....and yeast biscuits. There are just some things we can't do without!
The original recipe for these biscuits came from a cookbook of 'Southern baking' written by one Prudence Hilburn. (My maiden name--Hilburn--made me pick up the book.) Prudence was a fan of self-rising flour, something I've come to regard as another of the tin fiddles marring modern life. Fresh baking powder (yes, it does go bad) is a must if you want good biscuits. And these are not just baking-powder biscuits--they're Yeast Biscuits.
The master recipe makes a large batch of dough that will keep in the refrigerator for a week; however, it is dangerous to have that many yeast biscuits around the house, because we'll eat them and gain back all the weight we've managed to walk off. Therefore, this recipe is for one batch; (double it if you want the larger supply.) You can make the dough the night before to save some time. I like to prepare the biscuits and then let them warm and rise for a while before baking.
Combine and allow to foam:
a scant 1/4 cup warm water;
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp active dry yeast (or one packet)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 generous Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt plus another pinch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup shortening (I use Crisco bars, not butter, and certainly not lard)
Then add the yeast mixture and 1 cup buttermilk (the Bulgarian buttermilk is superior)
Mix well to get a 'rough' dough--it will not be smooth and elastic like bread dough. Cover and refrigerate (or proceed as below.)
To prepare biscuits, turn out dough onto floured board or clean counter-top. Grease a baking pan or sheet. Lightly knead a few times, pat out to 1/2" thickness, and cut into rounds. Allow to rise for a bit. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. (Check one; you don't want a wet, doughy inside.) Don't expect left-overs.