One of the things I loved best as a child when coming in on a cold, blustery day was opening the door to the house and having the smell of fresh-baked biscuits wash over me. To me the smell goes along with the orange glow of incandescent lights shining through a window over a dark, snow-covered landscape. It is the scent of hanging up your sled or skates, taking off your snowsuit, and coming in for dinner.
Dad’s biscuits are one of the dishes for which he is best known; childhood friends of mine fondly remember them and often requested his recipe when they moved away from home. The biscuits were more of a winter dish, not because they are heavy, but because firing up the oven on a hot day was tantamount to sacrilege. However, my Nan (Dad’s mom) occasionally used these biscuits instead of cake when she made us a fresh berry trifle during summer visits.
My mother actually wrote down this recipe in the back of her Purity Cookbook (my second-favourite cookbook, after the Joy of Cooking). She copied it from my Nan’s recipe, who had in turn gotten it from my grandfather. Unfortunately, he died long before I was born, so I can’t ask him where he got it, but I suspect that he learned it when he took his turn cooking when working as a lumberjack in northern New Brunswick.
Dad’s Biscuits (Baking Soda Biscuits)
Yields 10-12 biscuits
Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C)
In a large bowl, mix together:
– 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 2 tsp cream of tartar*
– 1 tsp salt
– 2 tsp sugar
Into the dry ingredients, place:
– 1/2 cup lard**
With a pastry blender or two knives, cut lard into the flour until the pieces of lard are no bigger than a pea.
To the mixture, add:
– 1 cup milk***
With a sturdy spoon, stir in the milk until the mixture comes together into a single mass, as in the above photo.
Grease a cookie sheet. Use a tablespoon to scoop the dough into ten to twelve roughly equal-sized portions (as per above photo). Leave at least an inch between each biscuit, as they will rise. You may have to use more than one cookie sheet to prevent the biscuits from sticking together; you may cook them in batches or side-by-side in the oven if your oven is large enough to accommodate.
Alternately, if you prefer more evenly-sized biscuits, you may roll out the dough onto a floured surface to between 3/4″ and 1″ thick. Use a round cookie cutter (one may be fashioned by cutting both ends out of a small soup can, removing the label, and giving it a good wash) or a floured drinking glass with straight sides to cut the biscuits to a uniform size.
Bake biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes at 450°F (230°C). Remove biscuits from cookie sheet and place onto cooling rack immediately after removing from oven.
These biscuits taste best the day they are baked (even better when served straight from the oven), although they will keep at room temperature in a sealed container for a few days. Make sure that they are fully cooled before they are stored, as otherwise they will go soggy.
*4 tsp baking powder may be substituted if you omit the cream of tartar and baking soda.
**Butter or vegetable shortening may be substituted for lard.
***Water may be substituted for milk.
This recipe is versatile and can be modified many different ways to create the best accompaniment to your meal.
Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup grated sharp cheese to the dry ingredients.
Red-Lobster-Style Cheddar Biscuits
Add 3/4 cup grated old cheddar cheese to the dry ingredients. After biscuits are baked, melt 1/2 cup butter or margarine and stir in 1/2 tsp garlic powder. While it is all still hot, brush the garlic butter mixture over the biscuits.
Add 1 Tbsp dried rosemary to the dry ingredients.
Add 1/2 cup raisins to the dry ingredients.
Cinnamon Roll Biscuits
After dough is mixed, roll it out onto a floured surface into a rough rectangle about 1/4″ thick. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar with 2 Tbsp cinnamon. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the entire top of the dough. Roll the dough into a tube, then slice it into 1/2″ slices with a sharp knife or unflavoured dental floss. Bake as you would plain biscuits.
Add 1 Tbsp sugar or brown sugar to the dry ingredients. Use sweet biscuits instead of cake when making fresh berry trifle or individual strawberry shortcakes.
All of the biscuits taste lovely when spread with butter or margarine. The plain and sweet versions also pair well with jams, jellies, and fruit butters. The plain and savoury ones also work with meats (hot and cold) and savoury soups.