Eight Keys to Great Biscuits

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When I was growing up in a big country farmhouse, we had biscuits for breakfast—hot, steaming biscuits that we would slap on the plate next to bacon and eggs.  We would split them open and slip in a pat of butter, putting the “lid” back so that the butter would quickly melt.  Then we would slather them with homemade jam or honey.  It was the biscuits that seemed to make breakfast special.  Actually, it was a loving mother that took the time to bake for breakfast, enough for four hungry teenage boys and a caboose of a daughter. 

Later, when I lived in the South, I discovered what Southerners know: biscuits are more than a breakfast food.  Hot, steaming biscuits work well with lunch and dinner as well.  They accompany soups and traditional meat and vegetable meals equally well. 

But there are keys to making those great biscuits that your mom, or aunt, or grandmother used to make.   We would like to share those with you along with five of our favorite recipes from drop biscuits to sour cream biscuits.

Dennis Weaver

Eight Keys to Great Biscuits

Key #1: Use the right flour. Use either a soft, low protein flour meant for biscuits—White Lily—or an all-purpose flour.  Do not use bread flour.  (See the next section for more about flour and other ingredients.)

Key #2: Keep your ingredients cold. Temperature is critical to buttery, flakey scones. Start with very cold butter—it should chip when you cut it into chunks—or cold shortening and your liquids should be ice cold.  Work with the dough quickly to keep it cool.
Why do your ingredients need to be cold? The objective is to keep the butter a solid and not let it melt into a liquid. If your dough is kept cold, it will have little bits of dispersed butter. In the heat of the oven, that butter melts into the dough but leaves pockets and layers in the biscuits.

Key #3: Don’t over-work your dough. Kneading converts the protein to gluten. Mix only until the ingredients come together into a combined mass.

Key #4: Make your biscuits thick.  Use a folding technique. For flakey, layered biscuits, use a folding technique. Roll the dough out to about 3/8-inch thick. Fold the dough in half and in half again and again. Roll the dough out to about 3/4-inch thick before cutting the biscuits.

Key #5: Use a wet dough.  A moister dough will rise easier.  Don’t use any more flour than what you need to handle the dough.  It’s okay to dust your hands and the counter with flour before rolling or patting the dough.

Key #6: Place your biscuits close together.  Place your biscuits close together on the pan, touching each other.  That way they will tend to rise rather than spread.

Key #7: Use a hot oven. Make certain that your oven is hot and bake your biscuits at 425 degrees or above.  The hot oven gives the dough a burst of steam that helps make the biscuits light and airy.

Key #8: Don’t over-bake your biscuits. Over-baking for even a minute or two will dry your biscuits out. As soon as the edges begin to turn brown, remove them from the oven. Immediately, place the biscuits on a wire rack—the hot pan will continue to dry the biscuits.

Southern Baking Powder Biscuits

These are your basic biscuits and proven by time.  With only a few ingredients and steps they go together quickly.  These are Southern biscuits without added sugar.

Drop Biscuits

We grew up with drop biscuits and still make them from time to time.  And if you don’t like to take the time to roll the dough and cut the biscuits, drop biscuits are for you.  The dough is wetter, nearly a batter, and you spoon it onto a baking sheet.  That makes them super easy. 

Read on for the Drop Biscuits recipe >>

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Classic Buttermilk Biscuits

This is the classic, maybe the most famous, most made quick bread in the world.  It relies on not just baking powder for leavening but the chemical reaction of buttermilk and baking soda.  Because the reaction is not complete, you still get a touch of tang from the buttermilk.

Sour Cream Biscuits

These biscuits are moist with sour cream and still tall and light.  They rely on sour cream for the fat in the recipe, not shortening or butter. 

Read on for the sour cream biscuits recipe >>

Cream Cheese Biscuits

Instead of using shortening or butter in your recipe, use cream cheese.  You can still get a very light biscuit with a little extra richness from the cream cheese.

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