There’s something intrinsically southern about biscuits baked in a cast-iron skillet. Whether served with jam and scrambled eggs at breakfast or honey and fried chicken at dinner, the recipe below has been a family favorite for years. Although they can look intimidating, light, flaky biscuits aren't difficult to make. The hardest part is waiting for them to finish baking while your home is filled with a wonderful aroma.
The first secret to making good biscuits is yeast. There's no great mystery to getting the yeast right. The key is not to kill it. When adding water to the yeast, the water must be lukewarm—not hot—or the yeast won't activate. To test the temperature, try pouring a small amount of water on your wrist. If the yeast mixture doesn't foam up, the water was likely too hot; you have to dump it and start again.
Whisk the dry ingredients to ensure they're fully incorporated. Then, using a pastry cutter, add the cold butter and shortening. The butter should be cold so that it doesn't get mushy; you want those little chunks. If you don't have a pastry cutter, you can use two knives. This isn't as easy, but it works in a pinch. The mixture should be crumbly.
Mixing the Dough
As with all pastries, take care not to over-process the dough. It shouldn't be smooth like bread. The more you handle it, the tougher and heavier the biscuits will be, and you'll lose that wonderful flakiness. When mixing the dough, stop when the buttermilk is incorporated—the mixture will be a bit crumbly.
Ready to Roll
The dough should have ragged-looking edges.
When rolling the biscuits, only roll them as much as necessary. Stop when you reach about 3/4-inch thickness. You want to see all those bits of butter in the dough.
Into the Oven
Cut your biscuits with a two-inch cutter. Press the cutter straight down; there's no need to twist. Place them in a cast-iron skillet and brush with melted butter. Not only does this add additional flavor, but it also helps produce that beautiful golden brown. Since ovens can vary, keep an eye on them once you reach 15 minutes of baking. Serve warm.
The Grand Finale
You won’t have to ring the dinner bell; the aroma will summon your family.
½ cup warm water (not hot or it will kill the yeast)
1 ½ packet active dry yeast (It comes in 3/4-ounce packets)
1 tsp. sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
½ cup cold butter, cubed
½ cup shortening, cubed (Crisco makes baking sticks that resemble sticks of butter)
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup butter, melted
Stir together the first three ingredients in a small bowl. Let stand for five minutes.
Wisk together flour and the next four ingredients in a large bowl.
Cut butter and shortening into flour mixture with a pastry blender.
Add yeast mixture and buttermilk to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and chill for two hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three or four times. Gently roll the dough into a ¾-inch thick circle, fold the dough in half and repeat. Gently roll dough to ¾-inch thickness; cut with a two-inch round cutter.
Place rounds, with sides touching, in a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Brush biscuits with two tablespoons of melted butter.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with remaining melted butter and serve.
Makes about two dozen.