How to Make Biscuits: Baking Secrets and Five Recipes

How to Make Biscuits: Baking Secrets and Five Recipes

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What’s The Secret to a Perfect Biscuit?

I’m asked quite often about biscuits. Folks pull me aside at book-signings. As I am spending the summer in New England, random folks hear my accent and ask about Southern biscuits. People reach out on Twitter and Facebook. I also get at least a couple emails a week asking about how to make biscuits.

This week it was a plea for a lost recipe, ” They were very light and fluffy, think she used lard and cut the biscuits out and let the dough rest while we went to church. The bread and biscuits were better than any bread or biscuits I have ever tasted.”

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits

I love biscuits and I am not alone. I have a fantasy of opening a street-front, window only walk-up restaurant in NYC and sell nothing but biscuits and grits. It’s not that I think that there are that many displaced Southerners in NYC. No, not at all. It’s that everyone loves biscuits. Those folks may think they like bagels, but in my opinion, they just haven’t met the right biscuit. There’s no doubt in my mind that nothing says love and comfort like a fluffy, buttery biscuit.

No, I am not talking about those obscenely large and layered monstrosities that the fast food places sell. Or those bizarrely soft and spongy cans of biscuit dough that have a shelf life of 6 months!? Those kinds of biscuits only exist because of chemical manipulation and ingredients that end in letters like “-ceride” and “-pylene.” I am talking about flour, fat, liquid, leavener, and salt.

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Secrets of Southern Flour

To explain the differences in flour, when teaching biscuit lessons I wil often make biscuits side by side with two kinds of flours. In the photograph above, Gold Medal All Purpose flour is on the left, and White Lily All Purpose flour on the right. See the difference?

What is Gluten?

Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. As a result, when you combine flour with water, the proteins create a strong and elastic sheet called gluten. Flours vary in their protein levels, which affects the texture of baked goods. Gluten gives structure to yeast breads, but is not recommended for tender cakes, biscuits, and quick breads.

Southern all-purpose flour is milled from soft red winter wheat that has less gluten-forming protein. It is typically bleached, which makes it whiter, but this does not affect the protein. My family has always used White Lily flour, a staple across the South; another dependable Southern brand is Martha White.

Most national brands of all-purpose flour are a combination of soft winter wheat and higher-protein hard summer wheat. White Lily contains approximately nine grams of protein per cup of flour, whereas national brands can contain eleven or twelve grams of protein per cup of flour. If you live outside the South, White Lily is available online or in some specialty shops in other parts of the country.

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How to Make Self-Rising Flour

For results similar to those of Southern flour, substitute one part all-purpose flour and one part cake flour for the amount of Southern flour in a recipe. Finally, high-protein flour absorbs more liquid than does low-protein flour; if you attempt to make biscuits with a high-protein flour, you will need to add more liquid.

Self-rising flour is all-purpose flour that is low in protein and contains a leavening agent and salt. It is widely available in the South, but less so in other regions of the country. If you have a recipe that calls for self-rising flour, use the following formula to convert all-purpose into self-rising: To 1 cup of Southern all-purpose flour, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt.

 

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Southern Biscuits

My friend and mentor Nathalie Dupree has a cookbook called Southern Biscuits she co-wrote with Cynthia Graubart, It’s the definitive biscuit book with recipes and secrets to creating every style of biscuit imaginable. There are great photographs including dozens of how-to photos showing how to mix, stir, fold, roll, and knead. Southern Biscuits also explains what ingredients to use and how the type of flour, fat, and liquid affects the end result; how to cut, hand-shape, or scoop the dough; time and temperature. Like I said, it’s How to Make Biscuits. Period.

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Tips and Techniques on Making Biscuits

  • Chill the bowl used to mix the dough as well as the pastry blender to prevent the butter or shortening from warming up.
  • Cut the butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Cold bits of butter or fat will melt during baking, creating pockets of steam that give biscuits their flakiness.
  • When working with butter, cut it into small pieces, and chill again before adding to dry ingredients.
  • Dip the cutter in flour. Cut the biscuits smoothly and cleanly straight down without twisting. Twisting can seal the dough and prevent the rise.
  • As Nathalie used to tell me, “Get your hot little hands off that dough.” Handle the dough as little as possible. You don’t want to make the biscuits tough by overworking, and you want the fat to stay cold until the biscuits bake.
  • A very hot oven is essential. The steam interacts with the baking powder to create the biscuit’s ideal textures inside and out.
  • The perfect biscuit should be golden brown and slightly crisp on the outside, with a light, airy interior. For a flaky, tender biscuit, don’t overwork the dough: gently combine the ingredients until just blended.

I hope you enjoy this collection of recipes. Keep me posted on what you’re doing – both success and failure stories. Shoot me a comment or email. I’m happy to try to help. Lastly, if you want a step-by-step recipe with photographs for Cathead Buttermilk Biscuits, check out my cookbook Secrets of the Southern Table.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis

PS here’s a bonus recipe for Three Ingredient Biscuits with a video!

Mayonnaise Drop Biscuits

Makes 6
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time25 mins
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 cup whole milk

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking mat.
  • Combine the flour, mayonnaise, and milk in a bowl. Using a spoon or an ice cream scoop, drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

 

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Course: bread
Cuisine: Southern
Servings: 16 biscuits
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling out
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 5 tablespoons 1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup low-fat or whole milk

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake or microwave the sweet potatoes until soft and tender, about 45 minutes in the oven or about 10 minutes in the microwave. Set aside to cool.
  • When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to touch, peel and mash until smooth in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or with an old-fashioned potato masher. Measure out 1 cup and reserve the rest for another use.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper. Set aside. In the same bowl of the food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine the sweet potato and milk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the potato mixture to the flour mixture, pulsing just until moist.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly four or five times. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 10 biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter, pressing the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Gather together the scraps (by placing the pieces on top of one another in layers instead of bunching it up). Roll out 3/4 inch thick. Cut with the biscuit cutter into 5 or 6 more biscuits. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Discard any remaining scraps.
  • Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nathalie's Yogurt Biscuits

Yogurt makes a very light, tangy biscuit. With homemade or commercial self-rising flour, it is a simple matter. Yogurt varies in consistency, from the thick cream-topped to the thinner generic brands, so it is always a judgment call as to how much to use to make a wet dough. Do not be tempted to use nonfat or light yogurt as they have additives that will change the nature of the biscuit. But if the yogurt is so thick you can’t incorporate it, feel free to add a bit of milk or buttermilk. These crisp biscuits triple in size and cut easily.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: bread
Cuisine: Southern
Servings: 12 biscuits
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 2 1 ⁄4 cups self-rising flour divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain yogurt divided
  • Softened butter for brushing

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, select an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or oven-proof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.
  • Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of flour and the salt in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1⁄4 cup of flour. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 2⁄3 cup of yogurt into the hollow, reserving the 1⁄3 cup yogurt, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the yogurt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 tablespoons of reserved yogurt, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.
  • Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat dough out into a 1⁄3- to 1⁄2-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a 1⁄2-inch thick round for a normal biscuit, 3⁄4-inch-thick for a tall
  • biscuit, and 1-inch-thick for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter.
  • The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits. Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.

 

Cream Cheese Biscuits

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time12 mins
Total Time22 mins
Course: bread
Cuisine: Southern
Servings: 20 biscuits
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 2 ⁄3 cup butter softened
  • 1 cup self-rising flour divided
  • Softened butter for brushing

Instructions

  • Pulse together the cream cheese, 2⁄3 cup of butter, and 1 cup of the flour two or three times in a food processor fitted with the knife or dough blade. Turn the dough out onto waxed paper and divide into two rounds. Wrap in waxed paper, plastic wrap, or a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. With floured hands and a floured rolling pin, roll out one portion of the dough at a time to approximately 1⁄2 inch thick. For each biscuit, dip a 1- to 1 1⁄4-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.
  • Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to an ungreased baking sheet, placing the biscuits 1 inch apart. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 12 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning.
  • Continue baking another 4 to 6 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, lightly brush the tops with melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up. These biscuits may be frozen, unbaked or baked, and reheated.

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Cheese and Herb Drop Biscuits

These Cheese and Herb Drop Biscuits are like biscuits with training wheels! You simply spoon the dough onto the baking sheet. The dough is wetter, containing more buttermilk than a traditional biscuit recipe. This wet dough creates steam in the hot oven creating feather light biscuits.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: bread
Cuisine: Southern
Keyword: biscuits
Servings: 16 biscuits
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 4 tablespoons 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme parsley, or sage
  • 4 tablespoons grated sharp cheddar cheese about 1 ounce, divided
  • Pinch cayenne pepper optional
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Instructions

  • Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Place the flour in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender cut in the butter until the crumbs are the size of peas. Add the herbs, 3 tablespoons of the cheese, and cayenne pepper; stir to combine. Blend in the buttermilk with the spatula to form a soft dough.
  • Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. Randomly top with remaining tablespoon of cheese. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, then serve immediately while still warm.

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. (That means I make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.) 

 

Southern Biscuit © 2011 Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Stevens Graubart. Photographs © 2011 Rick McKee

photos for Buttermilk Biscuits, Sweet Potato Biscuits, and Cheese and Herb Drop Biscuits are by me.

If you are interested in hosting me for a speaking engagement, event, cooking class, or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to jona@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

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Copyright © 2020 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

 

 

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. (That means I make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.)

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has made chocolate chip cookies with Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and beguiled celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Bill Clinton, and Julie Chrisley with her cooking -- but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Virginia is a chef instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen and author of Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South, Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra, and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence. She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network's Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of "Seven Food Writers You Need to Know." Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude and approachable spirit. Learn more about Virginia and follow her traveling exploits at www.virginiawillis.com.

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