Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in vegetable shortening until particles are the size of small peas; make a well in the center. Sprinkle in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry dough almost cleans side of bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons additional milk can be added if necessary). NOTE: You want the ingredients to barely bind or stick together.
On a lightly flour surface, knead dough gently about 20 times. Gently roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. Place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet. Place close together for soft-sided biscuits or 1-inch apart for crisp-sided ones.
Biscuits Making Hints and Tips:
For tender and flaky biscuits, have the fat (butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening) chilled. Cut the fat into the dry ingredients until particles are the size of small peas.
Excess handling causes tough biscuits. Do not re-roll the dough.
Always bake biscuits on pans without sides. The heat will circulate more evenly than on pans with sides. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately remove from baking sheet.
Split or cut the biscuits in half and top with the prepared hot Milk Gravy. Serve warm.
Makes 10 to 12 biscuits.
Milk Gravy Recipe:
1/4 cup pan drippings (bacon drippings or sausage drippings)*
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk or heavy cream, room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
* You can use the drippings from any meat, but bacon and sausage are the traditional ones used.
In a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, combine bacon or sausage dripping and flour. Slowly brown the flour, stirring constantly (I like to use a wire whisk), to a dark golden brown (you need to keep an eye on this as it may brown too quickly).
Gradually or slowly add the milk or cream, stirring constantly until all is added, and continue cooking and stirring until the gravy is smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Tip: This gravy can be made in advance and frozen for later use, but it tastes better when eaten the same day it is made. When ready to serve the frozen gravy, thaw it and then heat it up in a pan on the stove.
Makes enough gravy for 10 to 12 homemade biscuits.