How To Make: Biscuits

So, right off rip, I’m letting you guys know there’s no new recipes being posted today.

Instead, I’m going try something a little bit different. A few weeks back, I made a remark about my propensity for posting biscuit recipes on the blog, and that one of these days I really should get around to making a “How to” themed post solely dedicated to my personal process of making biscuits.

Consider this One of These Days.

Biscuits are a recipe that around roughly 7-8 years ago, I had little to no idea what I was doing with. All I knew was that they were one of my favorite foods, and I wanted to learn how to bake them and bake them well.

7-8 years later, and while I’m no master baker, what I can say in all honesty is that biscuits are something I’m extremely good at making. I’ve been to a lot of restaurants and tried a lot of other biscuits made by other people; I prefer my own, 100% of the time. This came about through a LOT of research, recipe reading/comparisons, and even more trial & error. It’s taken me a while but I do finally feel as though I’ve worked out a personal, tried-and true technique for biscuit-making, and I thought that I would the opportunity to share it here with all of you.

Essential Ingredients:

  1. Flour: You can’t make biscuits without flour, and the best tasting biscuits do largely depend upon the flour being used. The better the flour, the better the biscuit. I have had the best results in texture when using 2 flours in particular: King Arthur Unbleached All-purpose Flour and White Lily All-Purpose Flour. White Lily All Purpose Flour is only available in certain parts of the USA, and so I typically default to the King Arthur and don’t really notice a difference between the two. But a perfect substitute for either one of those is to either use is self-rising flour (flour with baking powder already pre-sifted in it) or cake flour (flour that’s been sifted repeatedly and mixed with a bit of cornstarch). Now, in full transparency, in time when I don’t feel like paying for I also make biscuits that taste delicious using generic, non-name brand flour as well.
  2. Baking powder: This one is important. Look at the bottom of the tin and make sure that the baking powder you’re using is still fresh. The biscuits won’t rise and they’ll have a metallic aftertaste if your BP is stale.
  3. Butter: Another essential that makes all the difference in the final product. I tend to stick to unsalted just because I like to control the salt level in my foods. When it comes to butter, the better quality you can use, the richer the biscuits will taste. Again, in full transparency I’ve made a lot of delicious biscuits with generic brand butter but if you can afford it, Land O’Lakes is a good middle ground. The European butters (like Kerrygold) are the highest quality and also on the pricier side, but ohhh the things they do to your baked goods. Finally, this is critical: FREEZE THE BUTTER. I’m talking, it should be rock solid. The colder the butter is, the more flaky and rich the biscuit will taste. I flat out will not even make biscuits anymore if the butter is not frozen, and I don’t recommend that you do either. Trust me: it makes all the difference.
  4. Milk: I highly recommend always using buttermilk for biscuits, but in a pinch, I’ve used regular milk with decent results too. As a pro-tip, you can always ‘make’ your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of regular milk and allowing it to sit for 30 minutes, until the top looks curdled.

Optional Ingredients

  1. Sour Cream: I put this in the optional category, but to be honest lately it’s become more and more of an essential to me. Adding 1 cup of sour cream to my doughs took my biscuits (that were already pretty delicious) and elevated them to a place of perfection I didn’t even think they were capable of being at. They come out SO tender and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside.
  2. Spices/Herbs: A little extra flavor never hurt anything, and depending on the dish I’m making, I will typically always add about 1 teaspoon of black pepper and/or some herb to the dough. Biscuit dough is a very flexible blank canvas in terms of seasoning, so don’t be afraid to add your favorites to it.

Must Have Tools:

  1. Box Grater: Listen. This little contraption was a game changer for my biscuits. Cutting frozen butter is difficult, even more so if you’re trying to get it into evenly sized pieces. The large holes on the box grater take care of alllll that for you; the butter ends up looking like tiny wood shavings, and disperses perfectly even throughout the dough,
  2. Bench Scraper: A crucial process of making biscuits my way is cutting and layering the dough so that the biscuits rise high and flakey. Theoretically speaking, you could use a knife to do this, but most butter knives aren’t sharp, and using a butcher knife to cut biscuit dough just isn’t very practical to me. The bench scraper is sharp enough so that you’re not scraping a dull blade against the dough (which can deflate the biscuits), and it’s also not going to be as awkward and dangerous as using a sharp kitchen knife. You can make sharp, clean and straight cuts across the dough that make for quick, even and easy layering.
  3. Rolling Pin (Preferably a handle-less wooden French dowel style): Speaking of layering…unless you’re making drop biscuits, I just don’t see how you get around the fact that you need a rolling pin; one that you’re comfortable using. I hate rolling pins with handles on them. For whatever reason, I have a better grip without the handles, so a French wooden dowel is ideal for me.

Optional Tools

  1. Pastry Mat: If you make biscuits, cookies, pie crust or bread on a regular basis, I would say that a pastry mat is a necessary tool. But even if you don’t, they’re still pretty handy to have around just to keep your kitchen countertop from getting messy, which biscuit making can sometimes be.
  2. Square Cookie Cutter: If you’ve been following for a while, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of my biscuits are square rather than round. I do this on purpose, as I’ve found that square cookie cutters provide an overall cleaner cut, and don’t compress the dough down as much during cutting (which can hinder the final rise). Plus, square shaped biscuits are easier to make breakfast sandwiches out of, which I do pretty often.

Essential Techniques

  1. Freezing the Butter: I said it before and I’m saying it again: if you want the flakiest, best textured biscuits, freezing the butter is a MUST. To give you an idea of how serious, I will admit that I have gone to make biscuits, discovered I didn’t have any frozen butter on hand, and abandoned the entire mission, It’s that serious.
  2. Layering: The flakiness in biscuits comes from layering and re-layering the dough. This can be a tricky process, as biscuit dough cannot be kneaded the same way yeast bread doughs are, or the biscuits will be tough and dense. You have to work as quickly as possible, letting your hands touch the dough as little as possible. This is where the bench scraper comes in such handy. It helps you slide and move the dough around without touching it, then cut it into even rectangles that will layer together easily, and also keep the dough from sticking to the mat. I do the layering process about 5-6 times, just until I can see the frozen butter specks ’embedded’ in the dough and the dough edges look like a cohesive kind of ‘sponge.’
  3. Overnight Rest: This was something I just started doing a couple of years ago. Biscuit dough doesn’t respond well to kneading, but you have to work it to some extent just to get the layering in. After I’ve completed my layering process, I wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it have an overnight rest in the fridge. This allows the gluten in the dough to relax so that the resulting crumb won’t be close = dense. It’s another step that will give you a more tender biscuit.
  4. Trimming the edges: Basically, this means that I take the one big rectangle mass of dough, and cut off about 1/2 inch from all of the edges. The biscuits rise higher when I do. I don’t have a scientific reason for why this works so well; it just does. I don’t throw away the edges though; I gently press them into a mass on their own, and get a ‘scrap’ biscuit out of them.
  5. Pan of Water: Fill a shallow pan of water and place it in the bottom of the oven. This creates extra steam in the oven, which helps the biscuits rise higher. It also gives them a golden brown crust on the outside.
  6. Close placement: Once I cut the biscuits out, I place them very close together on the sheet pan; nearly touching. I’ve found that this creates steam pockets in between the biscuits.Once the steam gets into the dough, it forces the dough to push upwards so that the moisture can escape. This = higher biscuits.

Alright, y’all. That’s about all I’ve got. If there are any more questions about my process, the tools, the tips, or biscuits, feel free to drop me a line in the comment section. For now, I’m gonna go ahead and also include the links to all of the biscuit recipes here on the blog, for which I’ve used all of the above tools/techniques/ingredients to make. Happy Biscuit Baking!

Baking Powder Biscuits

Banana Bread Biscuits

Black Pepper Biscuits

Browned Butter Vanilla Biscuits

Cornmeal Biscuits and Honey Butter

Cornmeal Sage Biscuits

Sour Cream Biscuits

My Grandma’s Angel Biscuits

Mile High Biscuits

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Linking to Fiesta Friday #374.