2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon PLUS 2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder; stir to mix. Add the shortening and incorporate it by taking a big pinch of the ingredients and rubbing lightly between your fingertips. Continue until only very small lumps of fat remain, nothing larger than a small pea. (Stir in any dry flavorings such as citrus zest or nuts at this point.) Add the chilled buttermilk and the vanilla extract. Mix with your hand just until the flour is completely moistened and the ingredients form a loose dough. Don't overmix.
Pat out the dough onto a floured surface and roll it out about 3/4 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter or a sharp knife to cut the dough into the desired shapes; dip the cutter or knife in flour between cuts to keep the dough from sticking. Reroll any scraps and cut again. Do this only once or the dough will get tough.
Arrange the shortcakes about an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until the biscuits are very lightly colored and have just about doubled in height, 15 to 20 minutes. When baked, peel them off the parchment and let them cool on a rack.
Makes 8 biscuits cut with a 3-inch round cutter.
Date: April 27, 2004