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Emily Adair’s Best Biscuits from Sue Aldrich

For as long as we’ve known Sue Aldrich—from way back in the Dark Ages—we’ve loved her light, flaky biscuits. They’re simply the best. She credits Emily Adair, her great-grandmother and namesake—middle name—for this classic recipe.

As Sue tells it, “My paternal grandmother, Ora McKim, was a teenager in Michigan when her father came home with a new wife—Emily—after a brief trip to the city. The ‘city’ was probably Cass City, Michigan, population around 1,200 in 1915.” Emily raised Ora and her sister Cecil, who were barely younger than their new mother. “I’m sure everyone loved Emily—except of course Ora, who saw her as competition,” says Sue. She adds that Ora turned into a bit of a wicked stepdaughter—but that’s another story.

Years later, Emily taught Sue’s mom to make biscuits. From there, the biscuit-making karma passed to Sue.

Sue has also added her own magic touch to these high, pastry-like biscuits. A tech market consultant and analyst, Sue weaves creativity into all she does. For instance, where does she get her classy wardrobe? She sews it herself, of course. So it’s no surprise she’s tweaked the recipe—and here are a few of her tricks.

For flakiness, Sue lightly folds the crumbly dough over itself eight times. But instead of counting, she sings: “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ shortnin’, Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.” Each accented beat gets a fold. What a fun technique—using a great old song to make fine old-fashioned biscuits.  

And we love how Sue cuts her biscuits into neat, lofty squares. Round cutters leave scraps that can toughen when re-rolled. So instead, Sue makes clean, quick cuts using a bench scraper. No waste. And she cautions us never to drag a blade through the dough. Dragging can seal the edges and keep the biscuits from rising high.

Emily’s original recipe called for milk. Sue introduced a little cream in the form of half-and-half. Once in a while she will also grate in some sharp and tangy Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar to make a tasty, cheesy nibble.

So if you seek the ultimate biscuit, one passed down for generations, give Emily and Sue’s recipe a try. It’s sure to make you sing.

Emily Adair’s Best Biscuits from Sue Aldrich

Makes about 18 biscuits.

Note: Sue recommends a dark pan for browning.  If you use one, you may have to lower the baking temperature or check doneness early—it all depends on how hot your oven runs.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup half and half or light cream

     Preheat oven to 450°.

1. Sift dry ingredients together and cut in butter until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal.
2. Add half and half gradually and mix lightly with a fork. You may not need it all, since dough should be fairly dry.
3. Bring dough together with your hands. Fold dough gently over itself, like a letter, to the rhythm of “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ shortnin’, Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.” Fold a total of 8 times.
4. Lightly pat dough into about a 12″ x 6″ rectangle. Cut biscuits into about 2” squares, or smaller if you want, using a bench scraper or knife. Make quick, clean cuts and do not drag the blade through the dough. Place biscuits on a baking sheet with enough room around them to keep from crowding.
5. Bake at 450° 12-15 minutes.
Cheesy biscuits: Add about 2 ounces Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar or your favorite cheese into the dry ingredients.

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