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Be a Perfect Biscuit Maker: Keys and Recipes to Get Them Right

I remember breakfasts in that big farmhouse where I grew up.  No matter how cold it was outside, that big square kitchen was always warm and inviting.  Mother was a great cook.  I remember big platters of bacon and eggs and stacks of hot steaming biscuits.  Sometimes there was milk gravy for the biscuits; more often, we just slathered them with butter and homemade jam.  With five teenage boys and a caboose of a daughter, we made those stacks disappear.

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.
There are keys to making those great biscuits that yourmom, or aunt, or grandmother used to make. We would like to share those with you along with some of our favorite recipes.

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.

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. 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 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 Southern biscuits and proven by time. With only a few ingredients and steps they go together quickly.

Basic biscuits can be great biscuits. These are straightforward, relying only on baking powder for leavening. They rise tall and are slightly salty with no added sugar. If you like, you may add a tablespoon or two of sugar—but then they wouldn't be authentic Southern biscuits.

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold shortening
1 1/2 cups milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the shortening until the mixture forms coarse pieces. Add the milk and stir the mixture with a fork until most of the dry ingredients have been moistened. Turn the ingredients onto the counter and knead and fold until the dough is formed. Do not knead longer than necessary. Roll or pat the dough to about 3/4-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet with the edges touching.Bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are just golden brown and biscuits sound hollow when gently tapped. Serve warm.Yield: 15 large biscuits

Classic Buttermilk Biscuits

This may be the most famous, most baked 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.

Ingredients

3 cups pastry flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup cold butter
1 1/3 cup fresh buttermilk or reconstituted from buttermilk powder

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse pieces. Add the buttermilk and stir the mixture with a fork until most of the dry ingredients have been moistened. Turn the ingredients onto the counter and knead and fold until the dough is formed. Do not knead longer than necessary. Roll or pat the dough to about 3/4-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet with the edges touching.Bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are just golden brown and biscuits sound hollow when gently tapped. Serve warm.Yield: 15 large biscuits

Sour Cream Biscuits

Biscuits can be made with sour cream instead of buttermilk. These biscuits are moist with sour cream and yet are still tall and light.

Sour cream is acidic like buttermilk and will react with baking soda. Unlike buttermilk, sour cream is high in fat and in this recipe, is used in place of shortening or butter. Because there is not enough baking soda to completely neutralize the sour cream, the biscuits still have a touch of tang.

Ingredients

3 cups pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1 1/3 cup milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the sour cream until the mixture forms coarse pieces. Add the milk and stir the mixture with a fork until most of the dry ingredients have been moistened. Turn the ingredients onto the counter and knead and fold until the dough is formed. Do not knead longer than necessary. Roll or pat the dough to about 3/4-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet with the edges touching.Bake for about 16 minutes or until the tops are just golden brown and biscuits sound hollow when gently tapped. Serve warm.Yield: 15 large biscuits

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Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry, a seller of ingredients, kitchen tools, gourmet food, and baking mixes, including a variety of Biscuit Mixes. Learn more about making biscuits by downloading our Biscuit and Shortcake e-Book.