There's a fairly substantial culinary mythology surrounding beaten biscuits. I'm sure that academic culinary historians know the true story, but it's pretty clear that most of what you read on the Internet is third-hand information written by people who've never actually eaten, let alone made, a beaten biscuit. And, really, there's nothing wrong with that because, these days anyway, the beaten biscuit is either entirely or almost entirely a mythical creature. Some of the information I've seen suggests that they're still common, or at least available, in Kentucky and Maryland, but I grew up in Maryland, and no one has ever served me a beaten biscuit. They may be a creature of the deeper south, but when I was a child, my family often traveled as far south as Georgia and Alabama to visit relatives, and I never saw any beaten biscuits there, either. (On the other hand, when I was in college, I knew a young woman from Kentucky who mentioned in passing that, as a child, she had been served beaten biscuits by an elderly woman. At the time, I didn't know enough about them to follow up with an appropriate level of curiosity and/or skepticism, but I believe we have at least one credible account of beaten biscuits having survived into the 1970s.)
Not that any of that is surprising. My best sense, from what I've read, is that the beaten biscuit is a creature arising from the ready availability of free (i.e., slave) labor and the not-yet-createdness of commercial baking powder.
My first encounter with the notion of beaten biscuits came from reading the original version of Joy of Cooking, where the process is described by the Rombauers, who, I can't help but believe, likely never actually followed the recipe. They describe it as something that requires both labor and time, but they also have the breezy you-can-do-it-ness of those DIY hosts who tell you that you can lay your own hardwood flooring. I have laid my own hardwood flooring, and I am here to tell you: you can't do it. YOU CAN'T DO IT. Leave it to the professionals.
Anyway, somewhere in my store of never-used cookbooks, I have a variation on a Junior League cookbook produced by some woman's group or other in Kentucky, and it includes a food processor version of beaten biscuits. But I can't find that cookbook. I received it as a gift many years ago from my then-sister-in-law, and while it was somewhat entertaining, it didn't seem very useful, aside from the beaten biscuit recipe, which, I may just have mentioned, I can no longer find. But the ideas that a) beaten biscuits are something worth trying, at least once, and b) they can be accomplished with the help of a machine (in fact, they were, apparently, often made with something called a "biscuit brake," and Joy of Cooking says you can also prepare the dough by passing it ten times through the coarsest blade of your meat grinder) have stuck in my head lo these many years.
I'm also planning to serve salmon mousse at an upcoming church fundraiser, and I had originally thought to serve it on relatively thin, relatively small baking powder biscuits. I was going to add dill to the dough, then slice the biscuits in half and make a mini sandwich of the salmon mousse plus a very thin slice of English cucumber. But then I thought, "Hey! Why not try beaten biscuits?" So the other night I decided to try a test batch. I halved and slightly modified the JoC recipe. I made a fairly stiff dough in the food processor. Then I folded it over and whacked it a couple of times, just to be able to say I'd beaten it, then I put it in the KitchenAid with the paddle attachment for five minutes, then I rolled it out a couple of times, then I wondered whether the whole notion of breaking down the gluten even makes any sense, then I pulled the dough into pieces and ran it through the food processor for a minute until it came back together, then I did that exact same thing four more times, then I rolled it out as thin as I could, then I cut it into small rounds, then I pricked the rounds with a fork, and then I baked it.
And I have to say that the results were pleasing. But I also have to say that they tasted a lot like a slightly puffier version of a water cracker and that baking powder biscuits, which are immensely less work, are a lot better. I will say that the reported keeping qualities of beaten biscuits are true. A baking powder biscuit needs to be eaten very soon after baking or there's not much point. A full twenty-four hours later, the beaten biscuits still tasted the same. But, then, so do water crackers.
Of course, it's possible that I just didn't execute them properly. For one thing, I rolled them a lot thinner than is usual, but I was going for something to serve salmon mousse on. Perhaps, given enough time and 500 whacks with an axe handle, I would have gotten something revelatory rather than just tasty, but I don't think so. I think that, like many myths, beaten biscuits improve by being dreamed about rather than by being realized.
Anyway, here's the recipe.
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. baking powder
1 t. dried dill
1 T. vegetable shortening, frozen
1 T. butter
1/4 c. cold milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and dill in the food processor and whirl briefly to combine. Add the shortening and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (you know, like you're making biscuits). With the motor running, add the milk. Then slowly add the water until the dough forms into a ball. Knead it briefly, fold it up a few times, roll it out, beat it, tear it to bits, put it back in the food processor, and abuse it in whatever way seems like a good idea at the time. Eventually, the dough should be nice and smooth or whatever, so roll it out, cut out the biscuits, put them on a baking sheet, prick them well with a fork, and bake them for about thirty-five minutes, or until they're barely browned.
Remove the biscuits from the oven, let them cool, pour yourself a glass of wine, sit down, and rest your arms. Eat a biscuit, then put the remaining cooled biscuits in a tin, as evidence. Tell everyone you know that you made beaten biscuits, and then lose the recipe. Experience profound gratitude for the advent of commercial baking powder.