This is a very old recipe found in many books, including the 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking. It is a snap to make with self rising flour, uncomplicated with few ingredients, yet producing a stunningly tender and fluffy biscuit. There are two Rachels in our lives — my husband’s granddaughter, Rachel Bass, and co-author Cynthia’s daughter, Rachel Graubart. Novices, we asked them to test recipes we hope will be easy for anyone. Both gave these flying colors for both ease and taste.
For the self-rising flour:
Sift together all the ingredients.
For the biscuits:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, select an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or oven-proof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, helping each other stay tender but rise while baking. For a crisp overall exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.
Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining ¼ cup.
Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 1 cup of cream into the hollow, reserving ¼ cup of cream, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the cream. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1-4 tablespoons of reserved cream, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.
Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat the dough out into a 1/3- to ½-inch-thick round using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a ½-inch-thick round for a normal biscuit, ¾-inch thick for a tall biscuit, and 1-inch-thick for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.
Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10-14 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4-8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the top of the biscuits with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.