Tender and flaky, biscuits may very well be the jewels of the Thanksgiving bread basket. In all its simple goodness, biscuit dough can be cut into fanciful shapes and embellished with fragrant spices, fruit (especially raisins, dried cranberries or cherries) and chopped nuts (particularly walnuts and pecans).

For the busy Thanksgiving Day cook, it's helpful to know that biscuit making is a one-bowl event. Let's take a tour, step-by-step, of the procedure and technique for crafting biscuits:

* Flour, leavening and salt are whisked together in a large mixing bowl (ground spices or cornmeal are also included at this point). Whisking is preferable to sifting because it distributes the leavening more effectively.

* Cold butter or shortening, cut into chunks, is scattered over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender, the fat is cut in until reduced to nuggets about the size of peas, then decreased in size further to smaller bits and flakes by crumbling the mixture between your fingertips. Dispersing and breaking down the fat lightly helps to aerate and tenderize it, and thus build flaky internal layers. Any additions such as shredded cheese, chopped nuts and fruit are included at this point.

* Whole milk or buttermilk is poured over the flour mixture to form a dough. Use a sturdy wooden spoon or flat wooden paddle to incorporate the liquid into the flour mixture.

For a rolled biscuit dough, use your hands to gather the dough into a rough mass then knead it briefly directly in the mixing bowl or on a lightly floured wooden board. Smooth the dough out into a flat cake (this is easiest to do with a lightly floured rolling pin) with a thickness of about one inch and divide into individual biscuits with a cookie cutter. To avoid lopsided biscuits, use an even downward pressure and avoid jiggling the cutter from side to side. The cut biscuits should be transferred carefully to a baking sheet with the help of an offset spatula. You can brush the tops with heavy cream or melted unsalted butter. This adds a luxurious top note of flavor.

Drop biscuits are even easier to make. Just stir the ingredients together in the bowl until a soft dough is formed, then spoon it into mounds onto a heavy baking sheet.

Once rolled and cut, biscuits should be baked immediately in a hot, preheated oven until beautifully risen and golden on top.

Cream-Topped Biscuits

(Makes about 20 biscuits)

Split these biscuits and pile them high with thin slices of country ham, or spread them with sweet butter and a dollop of fruit conserve.

3 cups bleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for the work surface

5 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

1 cup whole milk

About 3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have 2 heavy baking sheets or rimmed pans and a 2-inch round biscuit cutter ready.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender or 2 table knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the crumbs are the size of peas. Then, using your fingers, crumble the mixture into smaller pieces. Slowly add the milk and stir to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 20 seconds. Reflour the surface and roll or pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Using a lightly floured cutter, cut out biscuits using an even-pressured, straight-up-and-down motion. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all of the dough is used. Carefully transfer the biscuits to the baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with the cream, being careful not to let it drip down the sides of the biscuits because it may seal the edges of the dough and prevent the biscuits from rising.

Bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 15 minutes, or until set and golden. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Per biscuit: 156 calories, 2 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 247 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Walnut-Cornmeal Biscuits

(About 20 biscuits)

A touch of cornmeal creates a slightly grainy biscuit; walnuts add a gentle crunch.

2 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

2/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted and cooled

1 cup whole milk

About 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have 2 heavy baking sheets or rimmed pans and a round, 2-inch crinkled biscuit cutter ready.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender or 2 table knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the crumbs are the size of peas. Then, using your fingers, crumble the mixture into smaller pieces. Stir in the walnuts. Slowly add the milk and stir to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 20 seconds. Reflour the work surface and roll or pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Using a lightly floured cutter, cut out biscuits using an even-pressured, straight-up-and-down motion. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all of the dough is used. Carefully transfer the biscuits to the baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with the butter, being careful not to let it drip down the sides of the biscuits because it may seal the edges of the dough and prevent the biscuits from rising.

Bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 15 minutes, or until set and golden. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Per biscuit: 192 calories, 3 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 247 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Gruyere Drop Biscuits

(About 15 biscuits)

Plump mounds of this cheese-laced dough bake into rustic drop biscuits. Like most savory breads, it is most delicious when served warm from the oven.

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

Pinch cayenne pepper

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) grated Gruyere cheese

1 cup buttermilk, whisked to blend well

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have 2 heavy baking sheets or rimmed pans ready.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, celery seeds, paprika, dry mustard and cayenne pepper. Using a pastry blender or 2 table knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter and the shortening into the flour mixture until the crumbs are the size of peas. Then, using your fingers, crumble the mixture into smaller pieces. Gently mix in the cheese. Add the buttermilk and stir to form a dough.

Drop 2-tablespoon-size portions of dough onto the baking sheets, about 3 1/2 inches apart.

Bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 15 minutes, or until set and light golden. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Per biscuit: 149 calories, 4 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 222 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Cranberry and Golden Raisin Biscuits

(About 12 biscuits)

Golden raisins and sweet-tart dried cranberries dot a lightly spiced biscuit dough. A small amount of vanilla extract added to the milk subtly rounds out the flavor of the ground spices and fruit.

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries

1/3 cup golden raisins

2/3 cup milk blended with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have a heavy baking sheet or rimmed pan and a 2-inch square cutter ready.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Using a pastry blender or 2 table knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the crumbs are the size of peas. Then, using your fingers, crumble the mixture into smaller pieces. Stir in the cranberries and raisins. Slowly add the milk mixture and stir to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 20 seconds. Reflour the work surface and roll or pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Using a lightly floured cutter, cut out biscuits using an even-pressured, straight-up-and-down motion. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all of the dough is used. Carefully transfer the biscuits to the baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar over the tops of the biscuits.

Bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 15 minutes, or until set and golden. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Per biscuit: 210 calories, 3 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 180 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Buttermilk Biscuit Hearts

(About 14 biscuits)

The buttermilk in this quick bread dough makes these biscuits exceptionally tender.

3 cups bleached all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

4 tablespoons solid shortening, chilled, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

1 cup buttermilk, whisked to blend well

About 3 tablespoons whole milk or 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have 2 heavy baking sheets or rimmed pans and a 2 3/4-inch heart-shaped cutter ready.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender or 2 table knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the crumbs are the size of peas. Then, using your fingers, crumble the mixture into smaller pieces. Add the buttermilk and stir to form a dough.

Gather the dough and knead it in the bowl for 20 seconds. On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Using a lightly floured cutter, cut out biscuits using an even-pressured, straight-up-and-down motion. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all of the dough is used. Transfer the biscuits to the baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with the milk or melted butter, being careful not to let it drip down the sides of the biscuits because it may seal the edges of the dough and prevent the biscuits from rising.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until set and golden. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Per biscuit: 214 calories, 4 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 360 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Pecan and Dried Cherry Biscuits

(About 20 biscuits)

A touch of nutmeg and allspice in the biscuit dough enhances the flavor of the chopped nuts and fruit.

3 cups bleached all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 cup granulated sugar

8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, in 1-tablespoon pieces, cold

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, in 1-tablespoon pieces, cold

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries

1 cup buttermilk, whisked to blend well

About 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have 2 heavy baking sheets or rimmed pans and a 2-inch square cutter ready.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, nutmeg, allspice and sugar. Using a pastry blender or 2 table knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the crumbs are the size of peas. Then, using your fingers, crumble the mixture into smaller pieces. Stir in the pecans and cherries. Add the buttermilk and stir to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 20 seconds. Reflour the work surface and roll or pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Using a lightly floured cutter, cut out biscuits using an even-pressured, straight-up-and-down motion. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all of the dough is used.

Transfer the biscuits to the baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with the butter, being careful not to let it drip down the sides of the biscuits because it may seal the edges of the dough and prevent the biscuits from rising.

Bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 15 minutes, or until set and golden. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Per biscuit: 193 calories, 3 gm protein, 21 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 222 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Lisa Yockelson is at work on a cookbook about developing flavor in baked goods, to be published by John Wiley & Sons Inc.