First of all, these are NOT traditional biscuits; they're more like a puffy cracker. The traditional way to beat biscuits was on a tree stump using a hatchet or flat iron. Older homemakers sometimes still have the wooden blocks called "biscuit blocks" used to beat the biscuits. Nowadays, a food processor makes quick work of the dough. From the Southern chapter of the United States Regional Cookbook, Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago, 1947
- Sift dry ingredients together, blend in shortening and just enough milk to make a very stiff dough.
- Knead on a floured board until dough becomes soft and pliable.
- Run dough through a meat grinder or a food processor using a coarse knife or beat steadily with a wooden potato masher for 30 minutes, or until dough blisters, keeping edges turned into the center.
- Roll to 1/2" thickness, cut with a biscuit cutter, prick with a fork and bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until golden-ivory in color.
I've wanted to make authentic beaten biscuits for ages but just never took the time. It was a perfect, snowy day at the cottage which provided me the time and patience to try these antique biscuits. As Molly says, these are NOT the biscuits that you get at KFC or Pillsbury; they taste like Carr's Water Biscuits but are slightly softer and puffier. I made two batches: the 1st batch the true "beaten" way: mixed everything in a bowl, kneaded it, then placed the dough on the counter and beat it with a wooden ladle for 25 minutes. Never having made these before, I had no idea what the dough should look or feel like, but it felt "correct", so I cut them out and baked them for the 30 minutes at 350. They turned out flawlessly: a pale ivory colour and perfect texture--a soft cracker. The 2nd batch that I made, I thought like a "modern" person and made the batch in my food processor: I added the dry ingredients and butter in the bowl and whirled it around for 5 minutes. After that time, I slowly poured the milk into the bowl, and 1 tablespoon more, and it formed a ball instantly. Stopped machine, took out the dough and it felt identical to the hand beaten version: soft, velvety and pliable. I used a 2" biscuit cutter; this recipe doesn't list what size to use (original recipe never listed it in the book). I am so glad that I made these both ways and will continue to make them in the future as they were so tasty and fun to create. I can see why they are a Kentucky tradition!
I made this recipe with my kids as part of a homeschool project, and it was a real hit (no pun intended!). We took a hybrid approach to the beating- 15 minutes by hand and a few minutes in the food processor. The finished product was tasty and unusual. I suspect my family will be asking to make this recipe again. Thanks so much.