It was probably 40 years ago when I asked my mom how to make scratch biscuits. And let’s just say that 40 years later, I still don’t know all the secrets to making the purest Southern delicacy the way our moms taught us.
On this Easter morn, I’ll make scratch biscuits the way I was taught: Simple, clean, without fuss and, of course, with Martha White brand self-rising flour.
As Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs said, “Goodness gracious it’s good.”
But I digress.
Southern scratch biscuits take us back to Easter Sundays of long ago, when we all got up in the morning and wore our Sunday best, boys in bow ties, girls in white lace and patent leather.
Then we’d all come home and fidget and wait for Mom’s special meal, a roast with gravy and mashed potatoes and, yes, hot scratch biscuits.
My mom was a home economics teacher. She taught everybody in Randolph County how to make biscuits. Yes, including Richard Petty.
My first couple of years on this earth were in Randleman, when we couldn’t afford much. My dad was in school at Guilford and my mom was teaching at Randleman High School, and let’s just say there probably weren’t a lot of steak dinners in the little house on Sunset Drive.
But we celebrated Easter. And we ate the best scratch biscuits anybody on earth had ever tasted.
We recycled them for breakfast, halved and buttered then broiled in the oven, creating an entirely new delicacy, perfect for grape jelly or fine as they were, hot, crunchy and buttery.
There are many ways to ruin scratch biscuits, and over the years I’ve discovered most of them. An oven too hot. Butter too warm. The wrong shortening. Shortening at all! The wrong flour. Too much salt. Not enough salt. Confusing baking powder with baking soda. Just use both.
This is one of the great debates in the South, to add sugar to scratch biscuits or not. I’ve tried both ways. I’ve watched Paula Deen add sugar. I’ve eaten the famous Loveless Cafe biscuits in Nashville, which definitely uses sugar in its closely guarded secret recipe.
Through the years, I’ve gone back and forth.
So right about now you’re wondering where this is headed and what biscuits have to do with anything, much less Easter, which is for glazed ham and deviled eggs. I also happen to make the best deviled eggs you’ve ever tasted.
But I digress.
Easter is a day for family, not like Christmas or Thanksgiving, which come in the middle of football season and get caught up in the holiday rush and the stress that comes with it. Easter is usually peaceful and unencumbered by distractions, although occasionally we get an NCAA Tournament or the Masters or maybe a baseball game.
Or an Easter egg hunt. I found a plastic egg from last year while mowing the lawn Thursday. Or maybe it was the year before.
OK, enough about all that. Here’s how to make Randleman scratch biscuits with no race on the radio.
Pro tip: Work quickly.
While the oven preheats to 450 degrees, start with the flour in a big bowl, a couple of cups will do. Don’t overthink it. Add some baking powder (it has baking soda already in), about a spoonful. You can add a pinch of soda just for the heck of it, and then a little salt. Not too much. Set aside.
Now get a stick of butter from the fridge. I’ve even put it in the freezer for an hour to make sure it’s really cold. Cut the butter into cubes and add it to the flour mix.
Now here’s where you get into arguments, but many if not most Southern cooks use shortening instead of butter. I use both. Just a dab of Crisco as a nod to the old Home Economics Department at UNC Woman’s College.
Mix the ingredients with a dough blender if you have one. If you don’t have one, get it. Otherwise, mix the dough with your fingers until the butter is good and crumbly.
Then add cold milk, about a cup, and take a wooden spoon and pull the dough from the sides of the bowl until it forms a rough ball.
Now you’re cooking with butter and shortening.
Place the dough onto the counter, which should be covered in Martha White brand self-rising flour, and begin to “fold” the dough a few times, not too many but at least five or six times from different sides.
Now press down with your hands, until the dough is spread out about an inch thick.
Pro tip: Don’t use a roller.
Sprinkle a little more flour on top, just barely, and grab a cutter or a tomato can or a teacup and voila!
Your oven awaits. Grease a pan, plop those boys onto the hot sheet (no, I don’t use a skillet) and wait for the magic to happen. Cook ‘em until you smell ‘em.
Take the biscuits from the oven and wait for the crowd to go wild. Let them cool a little before transferring them to a napkin-covered serving dish or whatever, then go to the den and turn on the baseball game.
Pro tip: Let somebody else clean the kitchen. That’s what family is for.
Happy Easter, y’all.