Until the advent of baking powder in 1843 by Alfred Bird, biscuits were rather basic affairs. Sourdough was quite popular, particularly in rustic situations, hence their popularity in mining camps and the like. Below you will find my basic sourdough biscuit recipe, although I do admit to liking the baking powder variety better. The sourdough ones are really meant to be had with hearty, comfort style foods, like pot roast and beef stew. They are really a little too “tart” to be had with strawberry shortcake, for example. I’ve done it, but would prefer the baking powder ones. Actually, you prepare them the same way, only I use the starter in place of milk or buttermilk. You should have at least 2 cups of starter on hand, preferably a little more if you need it. Notice the use of the baking powder here, as this is really a hybrid recipe. Sort of makes you realize that something so simple as baking powder hasn’t been around all that long. Shortening has an even more recent history, only coming into being after WWII, with the invention of hydrogenation, which in turn led to transfats (amazing what the removal of a hydrogen atom can do). Is this more than we really want to know? My personal belief is that butter is better for you, hence the choice of fats below, as it’s certainly more natural. Butter in itself has an interesting history, but that’s another story. Think Great Khan. At any rate, here we go:
2 cups flour, preferably unbleached
1 tbsp sugar, if desired
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening or butter
2 cups starter (approximately)
Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in your shortening or butter with a pastry blender until you have pea-sized bits. Now add in your starter using a fork, putting in about 1½ cups first. If the dough is still too stiff or dry, add enough until you get a soft dough. Once your dough is formed, pat it out (you can also use a rolling pin) on a floured board. Cut out biscuits using a 2 inch cutter, and place 1 inch apart on a greased cookie sheet. If you want to do something different, you can pat your dough into a square or rectangle, and using a knife, cut out square biscuits. Makes an interesting change.
Bake biscuits in a 425-degrees Fahrenheit conventional oven, 400 degrees for a convection oven, for about 12 minutes. Always keep an eye on them, and they should be nicely browned when done. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter; best while hot.