Reading Dancing Blue Seal's post on Popeye's in New York City gave me such a craving for fried chicken and fluffy biscuits! This led to the discovery that those delicious Southern biscuits are actually incredibly easy to make! Only three ingredients - flour, shortening and buttermilk (well, okay, add salt too, for better flavour). Fried chicken, yeah, also easy - just season, batter and fry - you can try Paula Deen's recipe (she's the queen of Southern comfort cooking!). So why not try them at home?
There ya go with the biscuits. The best results are from using Crisco or similar hydrogenated vegetable oils (unfortunately, this is TRANS FAT heavy shortening), which give it a light and fluffy texture. I substituted a lot of that with butter, and the tradeoff is a slightly harder crust (insides still somewhat fluffy).
While it may not look terribly sophisticated, this video is the simplest and most elegant method I've seen so far, complete with the most soft-spoken and gentle Southern old lady I've seen. She makes it look so easy! No rolling pin or cookie cutter necessary. I've transcribed the directions (so you don't have to) and added some of my own comments in brackets.
HOMEMADE SOUTHERN BISCUITS
1. Sift 8 cups of flour, you won't use all of this (honestly, it's too much, 4 cups is more than enough, I had enough leftover to batter my chicken and make a big jar of murukku!)
2. Grease baking tray
3. Add a good handful of vegetable shortening to your flour (you may want to add salt too, for more flavour)
4. Add about a cup of buttermilk (I had to use more to get a wet enough dough)
5. Begin mixing by stirring with hand and adding flour to the wet mixture (mix gently but don't knead or the texture will become harder)
6. Mix dough til stiff enough to hand roll into biscuit shape
7. Lay biscuits in circular pattern on tray (well, not too close or they'll all clump together; too far apart and they'll burn)
8. Softly push in the tops with your knuckles (so long as you make a slight depression in the centre, this is to help the biscuits rise evenly - heat works in from sides to centre, so you may end up with domed biscuits if you don't push the centre in)
9. Place into preheated oven (400 degrees F or about 200 degrees C) for 20-25 mins; or until lightly brown
10. Remove from oven, butter the tops and serve.
I also learnt a lot from Alton Brown's episode on Biscuits (The Dough Also Rises):
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3QuQSdjMVE
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qcz4JQUwY9Q