Many Southern cooks agree that biscuits made with self-rising flour are better than those made with all-purpose, or, as we call it 'plain', flour. (When my husband went to the grocery store with a list that included 'plain flour', I learned that other people don't use that term. On the bright side, it's this type of situation that has allowed him to meet many of the people who work in our local grocery store. He's now on a first-name basis with the butcher and produce manager, who seems to start every sentence with 'tell your wife . . .).
But, back to the biscuits. It isn't just the fact that self-rising flour is easier that makes these biscuits more appealing - they are truly flakier and fluffier. Of course, all really great biscuits start with a soft flour - my favorites being Martha White and White Lily. The self-rising variety has the leavening agent and salt already incorporated so you only need to add shortening and milk (and a pinch of sugar, if desired).
My mother makes great biscuits and she does it the traditional way - no measuring and no pastry blender. She just knows how much of each ingredient is needed and she cuts the shortening into the flour with a fork. I do have to measure and I use a pastry blender. I also have a recent acquisition that I love - a square biscuit cutter.
I purchased my set of four square cutters locally at A Southern Season; they do not offer these through their mail order catalog, but you can find them in many online shops including Kitchen Kapers and Chef Tools. I bought these as a novelty - expecting to use them to cut shortbread, cookies, tea sandwiches, etc. But - once I tried them with biscuits we were hooked. The square shape lends itself to quick cut-outs with less waste and, therefore, less re-rolling (which toughens the dough). Also, squares bake faster than rounds . . . who knew? One other perk is that you can't wiggle or turn the cutter once it's into the dough. Even though I know that twisting the cutter makes biscuits rise less (it seals the edges so stay compressed during baking), I still tend to do it. Notice your next batch - are there some that are not level? One edge is much lower than the other? That's probably the result of turning the cutter. If you use a square cutter, you'll have fluffy results every time.
I've tried loads of biscuit recipes and this is my favorite:
Preheat oven to 475.
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening (buy it in the 'sticks' for easy measuring)
6 to 7 ounces milk (1% is okay, 2% or whole is better - don't use skim)
Blend self-rising flour and sugar in medium mixing bowl (using a fork or pastry blender). Cut shortening into flour (using fork, fork & knife, or pastry blender) - mixture should be crumbly and every bit of flour should be combined with a bit of shortening. Be careful not to over work - this will make the dough tough.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour milk into well and stir with a fork until dough forms. The mixture will be a bit wet. Flour your hands and the counter or board - with floured hands form dough into a ball in the bowl. (Sprinkle with flour if mixture is too sticky - humidity can affect the amount of flour needed.) Knead dough on counter a few times, until smooth. Shape into rectangle that's approximately 3/4" thick. Cut into 2" circles or squares. Re-knead the scraps and cut again or roll them into shapes - my family likes to make letters from the scraps for the children (easier for letters like L and C - trickier for R and E). If you make other shapes, be sure they're similar in size to the cut-outs so they will bake at the same rate.
Bake on ungreased sheet for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy while hot! The best thing is - once you've made this recipe a few times, you can make a pan of biscuits in 5 minutes and you will not need to look at the recipe. You'll be amazed at how many meals can go from mediocre to marvelous just by adding some fresh, hot biscuits!
One final note about self-rising flour, it's also great for many other baked goods including muffins, cookies, and basic cakes (the 1-2-3-4 style recipes). If the recipe includes flour, baking powder, and salt you can usually use self-rising flour and omit the baking powder and salt. For baked goods like brownies, however, self-rising flour is not a good choice. It will give the brownies a cake-like texture rather the dense, chewy one you expect.