Old family recipe: Angel Biscuits

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In the 1950s, as a new bride, my grandmother from the Seattle area to her new husband’s home state of North Carolina, after Grandpa was discharged from the army. She was very young and the baby of her family, moving to a part of the country where the culture was completely different, so let’s just say that those first few years were quite the learning experience for her. One thing she took away from her early years of marriage was her sister-in-law’s recipe for angel biscuits, which she’s been making for so long that she says she “can’t remember not having the recipe.”

Grandma's handwritten angel biscuit recipe

Grandma’s handwritten angel biscuit recipe

Light and fluffy, with just a little bit of yeast, angel biscuits are a southern classic, so with Dale being originally from upstate New York, it was pretty much a given that I’d make these for him at some point. They seem to have gone over well, so here’s the recipe!

Angel Biscuits

5 c. self-rising flour
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 pkg. active dry yeast dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water (not hot)
2 c. buttermilk (You can substitute sour milk–put a good slosh of vinegar or lemon juice, maybe a tablespoon or so, in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup and pour in enough whole milk to make 2 cups.)

Mix together the flour and sugar. Cut in the shortening–I usually use a pastry blender at home, but Dale didn’t have one. Makes sense–he cooks, but he doesn’t really bake. So I just cut it in with a couple of forks, which is more of a pain than it sounds, but if you’ve got a potato masher on hand, you can probably use that, too. Basically, instead of the shortening being in one big glob, you want it well blended into the flour, maybe a coarse bread-crumb consistency. Add the buttermilk and the yeast mixture and mix well. You need the milkfat, so don’t try to use skim milk. I found that out this time around; they were good if you’re not used to them, but without the fat they’re nothing on Grandma’s. (Nobody in my family keeps skim milk on hand, so I didn’t know.) Knead the dough, and at this point, I like to let it sit in the fridge overnight in an airtight container, though it’s good the first day too.

Roll the dough out to about half an inch thick or so–I eyeball it to about pinkie width–and cut out individual biscuits. Traditionally, you don’t let these rise, but my mom lets them rise for about an hour or so, and I let mine rise a bit less. If you bake them right away, they have more of the typical biscuit texture, but they get lighter and fluffier as they’re allowed to rise, becoming more of a biscuit/yeast roll hybrid.

I bake mine at 350F until they’re about the color of the picture above. How long that takes really depends on the size of the biscuit, so if they’re little tea biscuits, they’re going to get done a lot faster than if I cut them to the size of the ones you’d get in a restaurant. I typically start checking them around 7 minutes or so and keep an eye on them until they’re lightly golden, which for the big ones can be as much as 15 minutes.

This has been my favorite biscuit recipe since I was a little girl, and it’s one of the first things I learned to bake on my own. I was so glad that Dale liked them, because it’s a part of my childhood that I was excited to share.

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