Preheat oven to 450 F. To help ensure flakiness chill all ingredients 30 minutes prior to making biscuits. Lightly grease a 9-inch round baking pan.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and stir together to form a soft dough, but not sticky. Note: Only knead dough long enough to form the ball. Avoid over handling.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and pat or lightly roll until 1/2-inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter, cut into 8, 2-1/2 inch, round biscuits. Place biscuits closely together into prepared baking pan. If desired, brush with melted butter just before baking. Bake in preheated oven 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.
Cutting Biscuits: Flour the biscuit cutter or knife between each cut. Cut straight down. Avoid twisting or mashing down between the layers to help keep the biscuit light and fluffy.
Baking Biscuits: For soft, high biscuits, place biscuits with sides just touching in a rimmed baking pan just big enough to hold the biscuits. For crisper biscuits, place biscuits about an inch apart on a baking or cookie sheet and reduce baking time to 8 to 10 minutes.
Make-Ahead Freezer Biscuits: Place a baking sheet on a level surface in the freezer. Make biscuits as above. Once cut out, lay the raw biscuits on the baking sheet and let biscuits freeze completely, about 6 to 8 hours. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Bake the same as above increasing cook time 1 to 2 minutes.
Shortcakes: Add 2 tablespoons of sugar into dried ingredients. If desired, sprinkle tops of biscuits with an additional 1 tablespoon of sugar. Watch carefully during baking to prevent overbrowning.
Buttermilk biscuits: Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to flour. Substitute buttermilk for milk.
Garlic cheese biscuits: Add 1 teaspoon garlic, 1 teaspoon parsley to dry ingredients. Add 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese to flour-shortening mixture before adding liquid. Place on greased baking sheet 1-inch apart. If desired, add 1 teaspoon garlic and 1 teaspoon parsley to butter brushed on tops of biscuits prior to baking. Bake as above
Drop biscuits: Increase milk to 1-1/4 cups. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake as above.