The shock was on me the first time I saw what Americans call "biscuits". In Kenya, where I grew up, a biscuit is what Americans call "cookies". They're thin, hard and dry. So when my Kenyan roommate and I went to a country restaurant and saw "biscuits and gravy" on the menu, we laughed for a good five minutes. In our minds, we could not understand why anyone would want to eat a cookie smothered in gravy. Why, when you could dunk it in a cold glass of milk or enjoy it with some tea?!? My curiosity steered me to order the meal from the menu. When the plate was brought to the table, I almost fell over in surprise when I saw something that resembled a scone on the plate instead of the biscuit (cookie) I was expecting! Fast forward years later and I still smile at the memory of that experience. In the US and Canada, a "biscuit" is a soft, flaky, leavened bread that is somewhat similar to a scone (though eggs and sugar are not used in the dough). They can be split in half and spread with butter or jelly (jam) for breakfast, or filled with a fried egg, a sausage patty and a slice of cheese to make a breakfast sandwhich. Alternatively, they can also be enjoyed smothered with some gravy (which, by the way, is delicious!). The ingredients are simple and few and the secret to making fluffy, high biscuits is to handle the dough gently and as little as possible. Here's the recipe....
Serving size: 12 biscuits.
-12-inch cast iron skillet (I've found that this gives the biscuits that nice brown, crisp bottom) . If you don't have one, use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
-Wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
-Bench scraper or a dough scraper (is optional, but is useful in folding the dough over).
-Large mixing bowl.
-Pastry cutter or two butter knives.
-A circular biscuit cutter. If you don't have one, use the rim of a glass to cut out the biscuits.
-A pastry brush.
-3 cups self-rising flour.
-3/4 stick cold butter, cubed.
-1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk (for my Swahili speaking readers, this is "Maziwa lala").
-2 tablespoons melted butter.
-1 cup all-purpose flour placed in a small bowl (for dusting your work surface and for dusting your biscuit cutter).
-Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celcius) and place your empty cast-iron skillet in the oven (if you're using one).
-Place your flour in the mixing bowl; add in the chilled, cubed butter.
-Using the pastry cutter, cut the chilled butter into the dough until coarse crumbs about the size of peas, form. If you don't have a pastry cutter use two knives to cut the butter into the flour in a criss-cross motion until coarse crumbs form.
-Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in your cold buttermilk. Use the wooden spoon to gently mix the ingredients. Do not over mix or your biscuits will be hard!
-Once most of the buttermilk has been absorbed by the flour, generously flour a clean surface, gently gather your dough into a ball and turn the dough out onto the floured surface (the dough will still be very sticky at this point).
-Using your clean hands, gently pat the dough into a disc then use your hands to gently shape it into a rectangle. Then, turn the sides of the rectangular piece of dough in over itself (imagine yourself making an envelope out of a rectangular piece of paper, only you're using the dough). Do this twice. If your work surface gets sticky as you work, add some more flour. If you have a bench scraper, use this to help you lift the sides of the dough and flip it over onto itself. If you don't have one, use the edge of your hand where your little finger is, to do this. Folding the dough over this way, will help give your biscuits layers. Repeat this process twice only (folding all edges over).
-Now gently pat the dough out using your hands to 1-inch thickness.
-If you are using a cast-iron skillet to bake this, remove it from the oven now and set it close to your work station.
-Dip your biscuit cutter or glass into the flour in the small bowl. Cut out circles from the dough. It is important to push straight down without twisting your cutter into the dough. This will ensure that your biscuits rise well, like they should.
-Once you've cut out all your biscuits, gather the scraps, gently form a disc about 1-inch in thickness and cut out more biscuits.
-Once all your biscuits are cut, place them close or touching each other on your skillet or baking sheet. Use your thumb or index finger to gently push down the center of each biscuit. This will ensure that the top rises evenly and not lop-sided. Brush the tops of your biscuits using the melted butter.
-Place the biscuits in the center rack of your oven. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celcius) for 22 minutes or until the tops are a light golden brown.
-Brush the tops of the cooked biscuits with additional melted butter. Your biscuits are done. See the nicely crusted bottom you achieve by using a cast-iron skillet to cook these?
I enjoyed mine with some jelly. These also taste good with some honey. Yum!!