You know you are a southern gal when... your buttermilk biscuits are mile high and slathered in butter and homemade preserves or drowning in gravy. A southern gal's biscuits do not begin with a THWACK! on the edge of the counter and they have never been frozen. They begin with sifting flour, baking powder, baking soda, and a pinch of salt...
The word biscuit demands that the Latin teacher within traces the word's origin and historical significance. *sigh*
Biscuit means twice cooked. Bis is Latin for twice and coquere means cooked. Hence the original biscuits were twice cooked. They were first baked and then put into a low temperature oven to dry out. That was done so that Roman soldiers could carry biscuits with them on long journeys to conquer the Gauls and other barbarians. See? That Latin lesson was not so bad but Roman biscuits were horrible!
Mimi's Kitchen suggests that you skip steps two and three. Do not dry out your biscuits and do not take them on long barbarian conquering journeys. Bake them at home and slather them with preserves and butter or drown them in gravy while they are still hot out of the oven.
Biscuits are best made with a low protein flour, such as Lily White or Martha, that is commonly available in southern states but is sadly absent in the north. If you do not have ready access to low protein southern flour then mix equal parts all purpose flour with cake flour. This will yield a flour that is lower in protein. The key to great biscuits is low protein flour and minimal handling once milk is added to the flour/fat mixture. This will minimize the development of the gluten. Gluten development is great for yeast breads but terrible for biscuits and pie pastry. That said, if the only flour you have on hand is all-purpose then use it. It will not ruin your biscuit.
The recipe I have used since I was a kid standing on a chair to reach the counter-top is from a 1942 Meta Givens cookbook. It is a basic biscuit that has stood the test of time.
2 cups low protein flour (use all purpose flour as a substitute)
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup plus 2 teaspoons chilled butter or shortening
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 450°.
Grease a 9" square or round baking pan. Set aside.
Sift flour with baking powder, soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter or shortening with a pastry blender until the largest pieces are no bigger than a pea. Pour in the buttermilk and mix just until combined.
Avoid over mixing or overworking the dough now that liquid has been added. Gluten will begin to form at this point. Gluten is not a friend to biscuits! Developed gluten makes a tough biscuit.
On a lightly floured surface pat the dough from ½ to ¾ inch thick and cut out with a 2" floured biscuit cutter. Gather up the remaining dough and pat out once more. Cut biscuits and then gather the bit that is remaining and form the last biscuit by hand.
Place biscuits in prepared pan and generously butter tops. Bake in preheated oven 16-18 minutes or until tops of biscuits are lightly browned.
Remove from oven and eat slathered in butter and homemade preserves or drowning in gravy while still hot.