The Gentle Art of Biscuits

Biscuits Supreme

Biscuits are easy to make. They really are. Fast, too. You can mix up  a batch of biscuits in the time it takes the oven to preheat.  Yet, I know  people who seem to struggle with them. In class last night, we talked about the secret to  a light and flaky biscuit.

So what goes wrong? How do you make light, flaky biscuits every time?

For the moment I’ll assume you have a decent recipe. There are a lot of great biscuit recipes out there. I know people that have treasured family recipes. Biscuits that have been made the same way for generations.

Assuming also, that the baking powder is fresh*, there has to be some other reason that some folks just seem to struggle with biscuits.

The problem is, more than likely, over-mixing the dough. When I talk to someone who tells me that their  biscuits are always heavy or tough, I first ask about how they are put together. Less is more, when it comes to biscuits. Less handling of the dough, more tender the biscuits.

Once the dry ingredients have been mixed and the fat cut in, there is just liquid to be added. I prefer to chill whatever fat I am using.

At this point the dough should be handled just enough to hold together. A light hand means a light biscuit. The same is true for making scones. The more you knead the dough, handle the dough and roll the dough, the less flaky biscuits become. Be gentle with your dough.

Don’t treat biscuit dough the way you would a yeast-based dinner roll. The two are very different in how they are handled. Yeast-based doughs benefit from kneading and “working” the dough. Biscuits are the opposite.

Even when cutting out the biscuits, it will help if you cut  them out as close together as you can. That way you have fewer scraps to re-roll. Every time you roll the dough out- it becomes a little tougher. You can always roll or pat your dough into a square and cut out the biscuits into triangles, leaving no scraps and no re-rolling.

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite biscuits. They are light and very flaky. Is there anything better than a fresh, warm biscuit with some butter?

Biscuits Supreme

2 c. flour
4 t. baking powder
2 t. sugar
½ t. cream of tartar
½ t. salt
½ c. cold butter, shortening or coconut oil – you can even use lard
2/3 c. milk

Stir together dry ingredients and cut in butter to resemble coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add milk all at once. Stir until dough sticks together and knead on lightly floured surface 10-12 strokes. Roll or pat to ½ inch thickness. Cut with 2-21/2 inch biscuit cutter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake in 450-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 10-12.

Note: We made two batches of these biscuits in class last night. One with butter and the other with shortening, to compare them side by side. Both handled and rose perfectly. A few people said the shortening biscuits were flakier. I make no judgements about what fat you choose to use in your biscuits. I use butter most often, unless I am serving them to someone who doesn’t eat butter/dairy for some reason. .

*If your baking powder might be old, you can test it. Place a couple of tablespoons of boiling water in a cup. Add a teaspoon, or two, of baking powder. The mixture should bubble vigorously. If there are no bubbles, or very few bubbles, you might want to get a new container of baking powder.

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