A taste of home that’s as light as a feather: angel biscuits

Here’s a great recipe passed down from my mother – yeast biscuits. Here in the South (and the US) biscuits are not ‘cookies’. They are small, soft leavened bread more similar to a scone than a sugary treat like a cookie. Biscuits can be leavened with baking powder, baking soda or yeast and are not usually sweet, although with a thick slather of honey or jam, they leave nothing for want in that department.

My mother usually made baking powder leavened biscuits that were buttery and rich but not as light as the yeast variety. We would have this variety of biscuit for breakfast with something sweet like preserves or more often in winter, covered in a cream based gravy with sausage or perhaps in red eye gravy and served with quail, dove breast or some other game.

This yeast biscuit (we call them angel biscuits), while lighter, does not sacrifice flavor and remains incredibly moist keeping that “just out the oven” texture for many hours after baking -they travel well. These biscuits make tasty vessels for fillings both savory and sweet with the most popular in my neck of woods being the ham biscuit. Nothing says college football tailgate or baby shower here in the South like ham biscuits!

I like this recipe because while it makes a bunch of biscuits, the dough keeps well for 3 days, when covered and refrigerated, and the cut biscuits can be frozen too. I freeze the biscuits on cookie sheets and then place them in airtight bags or containers by the dozen, where they will keep well for a few weeks. Simply defrost the biscuits in the refrigerator overnight and then allow them to rise in a warm place for a half hour or so, and bake.

With Fall upon us and the holidays approaching sooner rather than later, I’ll be making a few batches for football watching parties and holiday gatherings. Whether plain or filled with a slice of delicious Virginia ham, these biscuits and their familiar taste of “home” will always be at the top of my recipe box.

Ingredients are pretty basic and good quality flour ensures a good biscuit.

Add the buttermilk to the dissolved yeast mixture.

Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture.

After cutting in the shortening and butter, the mixture resembles bead crumbs, well sort of.

Add the liquid to the flour/butter mixture.

The dough will come together – use a spatula, a wooden spoon or your hands to gather up the dough.

The dough will be soft but not really sticky.

After refrigerating a couple of hours, covered, the dough looks like this. Ready to be rolled into shape! Even in the frig the dough will expand due to all the leavening power.

When you are ready, roll out the dough into a rectangular shape.

Brush one side of the dough with melted butter…

and fold dough over onto itself, then…

turn the dough 90 degrees and sprinkle with a little more flour.

Roll out from the seam. Brush half of the dough with butter again, fold over the dough, and roll out again from the seam.

Brush with more butter and fold over one last time. Roll seam side out to your desired thickness.

Using a biscuit cutter, glass or my favorite, a wine glass dipped in flour cut out the biscuits.

Scraps from the first round of cutting. Bring them together but avoid handling too much.

Roll the scraps out to a rectangle and butter one side of the dough. Fold over, roll lightly (seam side out) and cut your biscuits. Only one process of butter, folding and rolling is needed since the scraps have lots of butter incorporated into them already.

Biscuits lined up on parchment ready for rising… or the freezer.

After rising in a warm place (not hot!) for 30-60 minutes.

I love these angel biscuits with local honey – they do taste heavenly!

Angel Biscuits

  • 2 pkg. dry yeast
  • ¼ cup tepid water (NOT hot)
  • 2 cups buttermilk, light or regular
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbl baking powder (yes, a tablespoon)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted and then measured plus extra for rolling out the dough
  • 2 tbl melted butter

In a bowl combine yeast and water. Allow to dissolve for 5 minutes. Add buttermilk to the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.

In a very large bowl combine all dry ingredients and cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry blender, fork or your hands (your clean hands). When the mixture resembles cornmeal you’re good. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and stir to combine for a soft dough.

Using a little extra flour knead the soft dough for 4 or 5 minutes. At this point you can store the dough, well covered but it will expand, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Or you can roll out the dough into biscuits.

Here is my technique for rolling out dough: Flour the rolling surface and using a rolling pin roll the dough into a large rectangle. Brush one side of the top of the dough and then fold over. Roll lightly back and forth a couple of times, rolling from the solid (seam) side out. Adjust the dough if necessary (turn it 90 degrees) and sprinkle with a little more flour. Roll a couple more times and brush one side with more butter, fold over and roll out one more time. With a biscuit cutter, jelly jar or wine glass dipped in flour, cut your biscuits out. Arrange on a cookie sheet or baking pan lined with parchment paper. Gather up leftover dough and gently form a ball and roll it out again, butter one side of the rectangle, fold over and cut out your biscuits. Continue until you have used all the dough.

At this point you can allow the biscuits to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour and the bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. OR you can freeze the biscuits on cookie sheets, remove them to a zippered bag or airtight container. To bake, place frozen biscuits on a parchment lined cookie sheet and allow to sit several hours or over-night in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator and to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven as per above.