These White Lily biscuits are a Southern tradition. They’re based on my Granny’s baking powder biscuits and they’re perfect with creamy sawmill gravy!
When you order anything other than breakfast at Cracker Barrel, there is a very important question that they ask you:
“Biscuits or cornbread?”
Biscuits, duh. Ah, biscuits. Though I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for cornbread since I developed my own method of making it, I would never, ever choose cornbread over a biscuit. NEVER.
I remember as a kid asking my mom to make biscuits from scratch, or to make biscuits from scratch with me, or something. I don’t recall that it ever happened. My mom is a great cook but was never much for baking from scratch, which is a shame since her mom made some famous-in-these-parts yeast rolls (she was the cafeteria manager at the elementary school near their home and made the rolls from scratch. People from the community would come to the school to buy her rolls). I never met my mom’s mom (Mamaw) but wish I knew how to make those rolls. The biscuits in our house back in those days were poppin’ fresh, probably with flaky layers.
My first experience with homemade biscuits? NOT GOOD. Don’t ever try to make biscuits from scratch for the first time on Thanksgiving. Take. My. Word. Why I decided to make biscuits on Thanksgiving anyway I’m not quite certain (Thanksgiving doesn’t generally make me think, “Mmmmm, biscuits….”) but I did. It was the very first Thanksgiving-the very first anything-that we hosted in our house, with Philip’s family and my family jammed into our not-very-big house. Philip’s sister put the sweet potato casserole into the teeny little broiler drawer in our ancient stove (yes, you read that correctly. A broiler drawer. It was wide enough to fit a broiler pan into and it was on the bottom of the stove because what could possibly go wrong with fire shooting out of a broiler that’s four inches from the floor?????) and set the marshmallows on fire. But that’s not the point here.
The point is this: I set out to make biscuits. They involved flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, shortening, and milk. The directions stated that the biscuits should be rolled to 3/4″ thickness. Those jokers at Better Homes and Gardens actually showed someone measuring the biscuit dough with a ruler. I don’t think Philip and I got out a ruler, but we were definitely all like, “No, we definitely need to roll it more.” The directions said not one thing about not overworking the dough or any of that important stuff.
So. I pulled those babies out of the oven, expecting big, beautiful, puffy biscuits. Instead? Hockey pucks. Freaking disks of baked biscuit dough. Philip’s sister called them “biscuit cookies”.
My ego was bruised. For several years, I bought my biscuits from the freezer section, till I found the book Small Batch Baking at a bookstore. My interest was piqued and while I didn’t make very many of the recipes (mainly because they required specialized small equipment) I immediately glommed on to a recipe for southern-style biscuits, supposed to be similar to Hardee’s. I made them from the book until I eventually committed the recipe to memory, then I started experimenting with my own methods, using all-purpose flour with baking powder, soda, and salt instead of self-rising. Eventually I started using more baking powder a la my Granny Reese, who used shortening in her baking powder biscuits, but you know I just can’t do that so I use unsalted butter. Then I started folding the dough to make layers. I make my White Lily biscuits every Saturday. Sometimes I serve my White Lily biscuits with gravy, sometimes with jam. But regardless what I serve with them, one thing’s for sure…
I’ll never choose cornbread over a biscuit. And if you try these White Lily biscuits, you may never either.
Yield: 10-12 biscuits
15 minPrep Time:
12 minCook Time:
27 minTotal Time:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (a soft wheat brand like White Lily will turn out the best biscuits)
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold, cut into chunks)
- 1 cup buttermilk (can also use milk, cream, or half-and-half or splash a little vinegar into the bottom of a measuring cup and fill it the rest of the way with milk to approximate buttermilk)
- 4 tablespoons bacon or sausage drippings
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a baking stone or baking sheet in the oven to preheat.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Add buttermilk a little at a time, stirring after each addition, until the mixture comes together into a sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly coat the outside with flour. Flatten and fold into thirds. Repeat the flattening and folding twice, adding flour as needed but being careful not to add too much flour, which will toughen your biscuits.
- Lightly press the dough into a rectangle about an inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter or knife to cut into the desired number of biscuits. I use a knife and don't worry about the shape of my biscuits. Not using a biscuit cutter prevents me from having to re-roll the scraps, which will also toughen it.
- Place the biscuits on the preheated pan barely touching one another. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 12 minutes. Serve with butter, jelly, gravy, etc.
- To make the gravy: While the biscuits are baking, Preheat a 10-inch skillet (cast iron works great) over medium heat. Add the drippings and heat until the fat starts to shimmer. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, until it just begins to brown. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking and allowing to thicken after each addition. Continue adding until the gravy reaches the consistency that you like (you may need a little more or a little less than the recipe calls for). Salt and pepper the gravy to taste and serve with biscuits. It's also delicious on toast, chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, fries....the list goes on and on!
This recipe makes 10-12 biscuits, but I usually cut the recipe in half to make 6. Also, to make the biscuits pictured here I used self-rising flour and omitted the salt, baking soda, and half of the baking powder.
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