The Secret to a Better Biscuit

Alright beastie bakers, this one’s for you. Deliciously fragrant, fluffy, and warm, these baked beauties are perfect carriers for melted butter and golden honey… That’s right, this post is all about biscuits!

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of biscuits that make them so dag gone great. A biscuit recipe usually requires only a few staple ingredients (flour, a leavener, a fat, and milk/buttermilk), about 15 minutes of prep, and a hot oven.  But, there are thousands of biscuit recipes out there!  With so many options, how to choose?  Some Food Science Secrets tips…

  • Check the fat. Cold lard/butter will melt in the oven, and react with the leavener to create small, craggy inner crevices – perfect for tiny pools of melted butter in your finished product. Cream reacts slightly differently since it is liquid fat. The fat in cream still melts, but the resulting biscuit will be full of teeny holes (like quick bread) instead of larger pockets. Shortening has less flavor than butter, but it’s a great choice for really fluffy biscuits.
  • Decide on a method. “Cutting in” the fat is an easy task, but how you do it can really affect your finished product. Many people use a food processor or pastry blender to get the job done. This method creates hard, pea-sized balls, which contributes to the formation of those small air pockets noted above. Some people shave in cold fat (I smash it with a fork) to make flat flakes that layer, for truly flaky, pull-apart biscuits.
  • Pay attention to the leavener (it’s usually baking powder). Adding too much baking powder may cause dry biscuits and a “chemical” or “metallic” taste.
  • Don’t over work it. You want the biscuits to be fluffy, puffy, and light. Overworking the dough will result in tough biscuits, and nobody wants tough biscuits.

Fresh from the oven biscuits, slathered in butter…what could be better?

Source: James Villas. Biscuit Bliss. The Harvard Common Press. 2004.

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