Biscuits are so very basic ... I can't make a chicken soup or beef stew without throwing together a batch for Silent Bob and I. That's what my mom always did when she made her wintertime batches of beef stew for our family, so I guess a food tradition was born with her big pot of stew and big basket of 'hot from the oven' biscuits. There were never any leftovers, once the five Miller kids got through with dinner! Nowadays, though, the leftovers go the next morning with butter and jam (if they're plain) or at lunch with cheese or sliced tomato (if they have been doctored with herbs).
I once made these biscuits for a lunch that I hosted for some PTSA pals. I had these hot biscuits with a cool chicken salad and big cold glasses of sweetened iced tea. One of the women told a story of her Grammy making the same lunch for her and her sister when they were little girls. She said when she closed her eyes and took a bite it took her back to the shady porch in western Virginia where her Grammy lived. I loved that story ... what a vivid food memory!
It's funny how a basic taste can become so deeply inbedded in your psyche ... ah, the power of food. Back to the recipe, though...
My mom says that the key to good biscuits is a hot oven, and minimal handling. The vegetable shortening has to be kept cool within the dough until you put the formed biscuits in the oven. By doing a really short knead, you keep the glutens in the flour from activating too much and creating a tougher biscuit. So when the recipe says 12 short, brisk strokes to the kneading process, stick to it.
Cheese-y Herbed Baking Powder Biscuits
1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
2 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. vegetable shortening
3/4 c. cold milk
1/2 c. good freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dried basil
Making the Biscuits:
1. Pre heat the oven to 425 degrees Farenheit.
2. Sift the dried ingredients together in a deep bowl.
3. Using two knives 'cut' the shortening into the dry ingredients until the shortening resembles tiny pebbles.
4. Toss the cheese and basil into the dry ingredients with a fork.
5. Add the milk and mix quickly - just until the dough holds together.
6. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured and cool surface and lightly knead 12 (and only 12) times.
7. Pat the dough into a circle that is about one inch thick and cut the biscuits with a round doughnut cutter (with the doughnut hole center removed). Place the biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Form the scraps into another smaller dough circle and cut more biscuits ... try not to overhandle the dough, though!
8. Bake until the tops are a golden color and the bottom edges are just browning slightly - about 12 minutes.
9. Remove from oven and slide them immediately into a bread basket. Cover with a towel and serve as soon as possible ... to keep the warmth and soft cheesey texture.
If you want plain biscuits, just take out the cheese and basil ... and there you go!
If you have no doughnut cutter, you can cut the round circle of dough into pie-shaped wedges like you would scones and place them on the cookie sheet just separated as directed above.
Make a dozen round biscuits or eight to ten wedges.
Store leftovers in a closely wrapped plastic bag. Microwave the biscuits for about 30 seconds on a plate to re-warm them the next day. They repeat well.