The secret to real southern biscuits

Tender and buttery they are the perfect biscuits                               Image by Rick McKeeRecently, I met Cynthia Graubart, who wrote Southern Biscuits with Nathalie Dupree. Cynthia was serving divine biscuits, the light and airy kind you read about, but don’t often get to eat. 

Cynthia should know how to make a fabulous biscuit; her co-author Nathalie Dupree is the doyenne southern cooking. In Southern Biscuits the two master chefs share 40 years of baking secrets, tips, and recipes. They tell readers how to make biscuits a day ahead of time, and keep them, as well as how to use biscuits for entertaining. This book is a treat. It’s full of anecdotes and beautiful photographs, and will make a fabulous gift for any dedicated baker.

Cynthia shared this easy-to-make and scrumptious, three-ingredient biscuit recipe:
Rachel’s Very Beginner’s Cream Biscuits
Makes 12 to 16 two-inch biscuits
This is a very old recipe found in many books, including the 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking. It is a snap to make, uncomplicated with few ingredients, yet producing a stunningly tender and fluffy biscuit. There are two Rachels in our lives — my husband’s granddaughter, Rachel Bass, and co-author Cynthia’s daughter, Rachel Graubart. Novices, we asked them to test recipes we hope will be easy for anyone. Both gave these flying colors for both ease and taste.
2 14 cups self-rising flour, divided
1 14 cups heavy cream, divided
Butter, softened or melted, for finishing
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, use an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or ovenproof skillet, where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior. Brush the selected pan with butter.
Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of flour in a large bowl that is preferably wider than it is deep. Set aside the remaining 14 cup. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour one cup of cream, reserving 1/4 cup, into the hollow and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the cream. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 tablespoons of the reserved cream, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.
Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface with some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half and pat it into a 13- to 12-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough into a 12-inch-thick round for a normal biscuit, a 34-inch-thick round for a tall biscuit, or a 1-inch-thick round for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.
Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes, until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the top of the biscuits with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.