When I get to heaven, I suspect mama will be waiting for me with a big ol’ pan of her buttermilk biscuits.
What would I give to have another one of those? It’s a happy dream for sure.
My mother passed away at age 72. I can’t begin to imagine how many biscuits she must have made in her lifetime. Even though she said daddy taught her how to cook, I don’t remember him ever making biscuits; that was mama’s specialty.
She didn’t roll her dough and cut them out with a cutter. They were what many folks refer to as “cathead-style” biscuits. She pinched off a hunk of dough and rolled it out in the palm of her hand before placing it on a baking sheet and popping them into the oven.
Mama would make about two dozen biscuits for Sunday dinners. We always had about 12 to 15 people come over each Sunday, which included all the family and usually our preacher and his family. I ended up marrying one of those preachers’ daughters. I credit that to these biscuits.
When my wife and I opened a small restaurant later in life, mama got up around 3:00 a.m. and made biscuits for us. Everyone always talked about how good they were, but that was something we had known for a long time.
Then one day before she had to have an operation for cancer, mama called me over to her house. I stood at her kitchen table and she showed me exactly how to make her biscuits. Sure, I’d watched her do this from time to time, but this was a serious one-on-one lesson.
The next morning at the restaurant, I made my first pan of biscuits. We sold each and every one of them.
I’ve always said mama prayed her biscuit-making talent over to me because I never felt like she made them quite the same after that day in her kitchen. And I know she would be proud that I’m passing this recipe along to you.
I’ll look forward to your comments at the bottom of the page. Please share some of your biscuit memories with me as well.
What you’ll need
- 4 cups self-rising flour, sifted
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
- ¼ cup lard
Three ingredients are all you’ll need.
You’ll need a very hot oven. So go ahead and preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Begin by filling a sifter with self-rising flour. This is right at 4 cups of flour.
Sift all the flour into a large mixing bowl. This is one of mama’s bowls. Even though it is slightly cracked, I still use it to make biscuits.
Take your hand and move the flour to the outside edges of the bowl, making a well in the center of the flour.
Grab some lard. I promise this is the way mama did it. Somehow she just knew how much it took.
But, I figured you would want more exact measurements. It measured out to 1/4th cup.
Add the buttermilk in the middle of the well.
Reach in, grab the lard, and squish it through your fingers. This is the fun part. It’s just like playing in mud when you were a kid. Squish it good, real good.
Continue to squish the lard between your fingers until it breaks down into small lumps. Keep working it with the buttermilk. It will only take about a minute. As a note, I keep my lard, and of course the buttermilk, in the refrigerator. However, it doesn’t matter if it’s room temperature or cold. It will warm up once you start squishing it between your fingers.
Place your fingers straight down in the middle of the bowl all the way to the bottom. It’s time to stir it all up.
Keep the tips of your fingers in contact with the bottom of the bowl as much as possible. Start making small circular motions in the middle of the liquid and continue to do this while working in a little of the flour as you go.
Think of this kind of like one of those rides at the state fair. Your fingers are making small circles, but your hand is also making a larger circular motion as it moves around the bowl. You want to gather in a little of the flour from the edges of the liquid as you continue to do this, working the dry flour into the wet mixture. This whole process should take about one to two minutes to complete before you build it into a large ball of dough.
It’s not likely that you’ll use all of the flour, but you will use a good portion of it. Once you’ve about stirred out, you will have a large ball of dough in the bowl like this.
Take a little of the excess flour and sprinkle it over the top of the dough.
Fold the dough over on top of itself a time or two as you gently knead it into a smoother package. You’re still working a little more flour into it to take away some of the tackiness of the dough. You will want it slightly tacky but not wet. Turn the dough ball over, sprinkle a little more flour on top, and knead it a time or two more. This will take about 30 to 35 seconds, so don’t over work it.
Work the dough just enough until it isn’t sticky and it’s fairly smooth on the outside.
Before you move to the next step, you need to clean off all that dough that is sticking to your fingers. Gather a handful of flour and step over to your trashcan. Rub the dry flour all around in your hands and between your fingers. The dough will start falling off and you’ll have clean fingers in no time.
With the sticky dough off your fingers, get some more clean flour and dust both hands a bit.
Gently shape the dough into a thick rectangular shape like this.
Scoop some dough between your fingers and pinch off a ball of dough – a bit larger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball.
Of course, you can make your biscuits as large or as small as you want them to be.
Place the dough ball in the palm of your hands and roll it around just as you would in making a meatball or hamburger patty. Start out with a little firm pressure and as it starts feeling sticky, lighten up on the touch. This part may take a little practice but you can do it, hang in there.
You should end up with a round ball of dough like this. Notice it’s pretty smooth on the outside at this point. Rolling it around in your hands should smooth out any splits or folds in the dough. If it has places like that, roll it around a little more. Use a light touch and don’t press the dough together very hard.
Drop the ball of dough back into the flour and roll it around just enough to lightly coat it again.
Give the dough ball another quick roll around between the palms of your hands. It will only take about one second to do this part. Then, flatten it out by pressing it just a little. Again this is pretty much like shaping a hamburger patty.
You will need to lightly grease your baking pan with a little lard or butter. You can use a flat baking sheet or a cast iron skillet.
Just keep repeating the process of shaping the biscuits until you’ve filled the pan or run out of dough. I prefer to have the sides touching as it makes the edges softer. If you space the biscuits an inch or so apart on a baking sheet, they will have more of a crust around the edges as they bake up. It’s a personal choice, but try it both ways and see which you like best.
I opted to bake these in one of mama’s old cast iron skillets. It is of course my favorite and most treasured kitchen item.
When mama baked biscuits for Sunday dinner, she made about two dozen or more biscuits at a time. She would bake those on large baking sheets instead of the skillet. I thought you’d like to see them in the skillet though.
Use the back of your fingers and gently press down on the tops of the biscuits. This will pack them in a little tighter and helps keep the centers from baking up uneven. These biscuits are probably about half an inch thick at this point.
Ovens vary so you’ll want to keep a close eye on them. After about 8 minutes, start sneaking a peak at the tops of the biscuits.
Don’t open the oven door all the way but just enough to see them. They should have risen up nicely and will start to brown around this time. Since the oven is so hot, they can burn really easy. Once the tops turn a light golden brown all over, they’re ready.
CAUTION: No matter what you’re baking biscuits in, the pan gets really hot – especially a cast iron skillet. You’ll need much more than a towel or a pot holder to remove a cast iron skillet from a 500 degree oven. Trust me on this one. You’ll also need a good spot to sit the pan once it comes out of the oven.
Right after you take them out of the oven, brush the tops with some melted Butter. Let it run down around the edges and in between the biscuits.
Cover the hot buttered biscuits with a clean towel and let them rest for a few minutes, or until you’re ready to serve them.
Serve them up warm and enjoy!
Biscuits are good about any way you would like to serve them. I hope you’ll try making biscuits the way mama taught me to do them. I think you’ll find it to be one of the easiest ways to make delicious biscuits that you and the family will enjoy many times over. Don’t let it intimidate you.
What are some of your fondest memories about biscuits? What’s your favorite thing to serve with them?
You can also check out my step-by-step, photo illustrated recipe for making Sweet Potato Biscuits on my Taste of Southern website. Those are pretty tasty as well.