In developing what I consider to be the perfect biscuit, I started by researching what must be every book ever written on biscuits, and read literally hundreds of recipes, each one differing ever so slightly. I tested and retested recipes form distinguished authorities and venerated volumes: Bill Neal, Edna Lewis, Mrs. S.R. Dull, Charleston Receipts, Joy of Cooking, Cooks Illustrated (which has a very unorthodox but delicious whipping-cream biscuit), with themes and variations like cream-cheese biscuits, buttermilk biscuits, beaten biscuits, herb biscuits, cheese biscuits, and on and on. After making hundreds of versions of the Southern biscuit, I came up with the formula that I thought was the best and one that eschewed both shortening and buttermilk. My sweet-milk biscuit is made of pure butter and can serve as an all-purpose base for ham, herbs, and cheese; as a crust for savory chicken and salmon pot pies; and, by the addition of more sugar, as a topping for sweet fruit cobblers.
YIELD: 18-24 biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 1/8 tablespoons baking powder (make sure it’s new!)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cold and cut into quarters
¼ cup cold milk
Egg wash: 1 beaten egg plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 450 °F.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, and pulse it a couple of times until it is fully combined.
Add the cold butter, all at once, and pulse it until it resembles coarse crumbs, 8 to 10 times.
Pour the milk through the feed tube, slowly, while pulsing, until the milk is completely added. This will take 20 to 25 pulses. Pea-size crumbs will form. Do not continue pulsing until the dull pulls away from the sides of the bowl or the biscuits will be tough.
Pour the pea-size crumbs onto a floured surface, and add fresh herbs or other ingredients (see variations) if desired.