I remember exactly when I first encountered these celestial biscuits. It was in the early 1970s as I prowled the South in search of great grassroots cooks to feature in a new series I was writing for Family Circle magazine. Through county home demonstration agents, I obtained the names of the local women who’d won prizes at the county and state fairs. I then interviewed two or three of them in each area before choosing my subject. And all, it seemed, couldn’t stop talking about “this fantastic new biscuit recipe” that was all the rage—something called Angel Biscuits. The local cookbooks I perused also featured Angel Biscuits, often two or three versions of them in a single volume. Later, when I began researching my American Century Cookbook, I vowed to learn the origin of these feathery biscuits. My friend Jeanne Voltz, for years the Woman’s Day food editor, thought that Angel Biscuits descended from an old Alabama recipe called Riz Biscuits, which she remembered from her childhood. Helen Moore, a freelance food columnist living near Charlotte, North Carolina, told me that a home economics professor of hers at Winthrop College in South Carolina had given her the Angel Biscuits recipe back in the 1950s. “I remember her saying, ‘I’ve got a wonderful new biscuit recipe. It’s got yeast in it.’ ” Others I’ve queried insist that Angel Biscuits were created at one of the fine southern flour millers; some say at White Lily, others at Martha White (and both are old Nashville companies). In addition to the soft flour used to make them, Angel Biscuits owe their airiness to three leavenings: yeast, baking powder, and baking soda. Small wonder they’re also called “bride’s biscuits.” They are virtually foolproof.
Ingredients: 1 1/4- ounce package active dry yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup very warm water (105°to 115°F.),1 tablespoon baking powder,1 teaspoon baking soda,2 cups buttermilk,5 cups sifted all-purpose flour (preferably a fine southern flour; see headnote),1 cup firmly packed vegetable shortening or lard or a half-and-half mixture of the two,2 teaspoons salt,1/4 cup sugar
Instructions: 1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.,2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the texture of coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and yeast mixture and toss briskly with a fork just until the mixture forms a soft dough.,3. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and with floured hands, knead lightly for about a minute. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out until 5/8 inch thick; then, using a well-floured 2 1/2- to 2 3/4-inch cutter, cut into rounds. Place on ungreased baking sheets, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut as before.,4. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the biscuits are nicely puffed and pale tan on top. Serve at once with plenty of butter.