Over the years I’ve made biscuits (not the English cookie kind, the American round scone kind) several different ways. Some quite good. But always just not quite as light and delicate as others have fed me over the years. Now I think I know why.
It has to do with the “Self Rising Flour”. I’d always assumed it was just general purpose flower with some leaven added. Nope. I’d avoided it, thinking it just a cheap cheat. My bad.
On one end of the protein scale is cake or Pastry Flour (Soft or weak flour) with cake flour a bit lower protein. 8%-9%. Fairly low protein. Wants an egg in it to hold things together. On the other far end is bread or noodle flour (Hard or strong flour). LOTS of protein at 12%-14%+. French Bread or Sour Dough does not need an egg in it to make it stick together. General Purpose flour is about in the middle at around 10%-12% protein. Well, self rising flour is made with about a 9%-10% protein mix. Less gluten than All Purpose flour and a bit more than cake flour. Enough more that you don’t absolutely need an egg to hold it together, but low enough that it is fluffy and crumbly and not at all stiff and structural. It makes a biscuit with a more tender crumb.
During my “stocking up”, I decided to buy a bag of Walmart Self Rising Flour. It was all of about $2.50 for what I think was a 5 lb bag. (I packed it into 3 quarts of jars… so the label is gone now). Figured worse case I could make it into pancakes and bury them in jam ;-) I figured it was cheap and it was time for me to learn about it. Imagine my surprise at the better biscuits.
Now the spouse doesn’t like biscuits. Well, really, she doesn’t like commercial biscuits or those hard semi-stale things from some less than well run KFCs. She did try one of my biscuits some time back and did like it. But set in her ways still prefers to avoid them. So on my “to do” list was to make “biscuits for one”. There’s nothing quite like a fresh from the oven biscuit, and nothing quite so disappointing as a day old hard biscuit hockey puck. I wanted “made to order”. So this was my chance to work out a smaller batch size recipe.
So here’s what I ended up with:
I use a 1/4 cup scoop and put 2 scoops of flour in a regular cereal bowl. Then the scoop is filled with milk and set aside. I used reconstituted evaporated milk (mix it 1/2 and 1/2 with water). Add a pinch of salt (about 1/16 tsp?) and a pat of butter to the flour. (About a Tbs of butter, or coconut oil or lard or really any hard fat you have. You can use an oil, but it isn’t as flaky / fluffy).
With a fork, I press the butter into the flour, turn the bowl (or the fork) and repeat. Essentially using the fork tines to “cut” the fat into the flour. Occasionally stirring, scrapping bits of butter off the fork. Get it mixed well enough you can’t see butter lumps. Then add the milk and mix fairly rapidly but gently to a modestly stiff dough. Let it set a couple of minutes why you get a small cast iron pan oiled and put into a 425 F oven. Back at the dough, it ought to be dry enough to not be a sticky mess in your hand (add small bits of flour if it is) but not so dry a lot of flour is left in the bowl.
Shape the dough into a shape you like. Can be “spoon drop”, or what I like is to just shape it into a couple of flats about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick. Place in the skillet. In about 12 minutes, you have a very nice biscuit ready for butter and jam. As both lard and coconut oil store for very long times at room temperature, and canned evaporated milk too, these are very nice “survival rations” (as long as you store the flour in air / moisture proof jars too ;-)
When done, these just lift out of the skillet and clean up consists of wiping with a bit of paper towel or work cloth. Or just cook some bacon in it ;-)
I am now quite happy with my “Biscuits for one” and always “fresh on demand”. I’m also happy to have a method that deesn’t need buttermilk, yogurt, or other refrigerated stuff I’m unlikely to have in an AwShit circumstance. At 1/2 cup / throw, I’ve got somewhere around 24 servings for under $3 plus fat. If I use bacon grease, even that is free.
I do want to “roll my own” self rising flour made with All Purpose, just to see how hard it is and what difference there is in the final product. But that is more for curiosity than anything else. From here on out, I’m going to be picking up a bag of self rising flour from time to time. My days of being a flour snob were just shot down by a very fluffy savoury scone / biscuit.