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There are lots of different biscuit recipes out there, but these tips will work with all of them.
There are some great tips that work with every biscuit recipe, so you can apply these to your favorite one!
Don’t have a favorite? These southern biscuits are ready in 20 minutes, start to finish, and have only THREE ingredients. And these all-butter biscuits are perfect for breakfast sandwiches. They also freeze well before baking.
Cold fats and liquids are key
Keep your fats cold
Whether your recipe calls for butter or Crisco, make sure it’s very cold.
When making butter-based biscuits I usually cut the butter into chunks, put them on a plate, and put the plate in the freezer while I gather the rest of the ingredients.
What about freezing and grating the butter? A lot of bakers swear by this. But you know what? I HATE doing it. I don’t care if grating frozen butter produces the best biscuits in the universe, I hate doing it that much.
For Crisco, I just keep it in the fridge so that it’s always ready, and I don’t get it out until I’m ready to use it. Or, if I want to portion it out ahead of time, I put the amount I need into a small bowl and put that in the fridge until I’m ready for it.
Keep your liquids cold, too
If your recipe calls for ice water, put more than you need into a container with some ice cubes. When you’re ready to use it, pour what you need into a measuring cup, straining out the ice.
For milk, buttermilk, or cream, keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
But don’t go crazy!!
I’ve seen recipes that tell you to put the bowl, flour, and rolling pin in the freezer to get them ready! I have not found this to be at all helpful. I mean, make sure they’re not warm out of the dishwasher, or stored on top of the stove. But otherwise, room temperature is fine.
However, keep in my that your hands are going to be warmer than any spoon or rolling pin. Try not to mix the dough with your hands, especially a butter dough. And use a rolling pin to get the dough flat, and a bench scraper to fold and move it.
Use the right flour
Southern bakers swear by White Lily Flour, and I can see why. It produces the fluffiest biscuits.
Use whatever flour your recipe calls for, but if it doesn’t specify, you can’t go wrong with White Lily!
What about self-rising flour?
My southern biscuit recipe calls for White Lily self-rising flour. Now, you might have been told that you could make your own self-rising flour by adding baking powder and salt to all-purpose flour, and it will be just as good.
However, self-rising flour is made with a different kind of wheat than all-purpose flour. So while your baked goods will rise if you make your own, your biscuits just won’t be as fluffy as if you buy actual self-rising flour.
And once again, you can’t go wrong with White Lily!
Try cake flour
The kind of White Lily flour that I use, their bleached version, has only 8% protein. That’s basically like cake flour. So if you’re using all-purpose flour, go ahead and substitute in some cake flour.
Make sure your leveners are fresh
You want fluffy biscuits, not flat hockey pucks. And your biscuits won’t rise if the rising agents aren’t doing their job.
Baking soda and baking powder don’t last all that long once they’re opened. Even if you keep them in an airtight container, after about six month they’re start getting weaker.
Mark the date you open them on the container, and test them periodically. You don’t want to ruin an entire recipe because of one ingredient!
It’s also a good idea to test a new package of baking powder or soda, just so you know what to look for.
How to test baking powder
Put about a quarter cup of hot water (not boiling, hot tap water is fine) into a small bowl, and add about half a teaspoon of baking powder. Stir it in and watch for bubbles. If there aren’t any, or not many, time to get new baking powder.
How to test baking soda
Put two teaspoons of white vinegar into a small bowl, and add about half a teaspoon of baking soda. Stir it in and watch for immediate bubbles. If there aren’t any, or not many, time to get new baking soda.
The right equipment can be just as important as the right ingredients.
Weigh your ingredients!
You just can’t get a consistent amount of flour if you don’t weigh it. And have you tried measuring Crisco or butter in a measuring cup??
How to measure flour without a scale
OK, so what if you just don’t have a scale? Or you do, but you’re not at home?
First, you want to sift your flour. Yes, I know, it’s a pain. But it’s going to help you get a more accurate measurement. I have a sifter like this one. But honestly I don’t use it much, because I also have one of these, and it sifts as it measures and dispenses, and even has a super-accurate built-in scale (there’s often a big coupon for it on the Amazon page; if there isn’t one, I would wait, because you can save almost $100).
Once your flour is sifted, take a big spoon and gently spoon flour into a measuring cup until it’s over the top. DO NOT pat it down!!
Then, take a straight edge (knife, ruler, etc.) and gently sweep the excess off of the top, leaving a nice, level surface that’s even with the top of the measuring cup.
Use a good pastry blender
I don’t understand why those thin, wiry dough blenders exist. They can’t stand up to hard butter! And if you want flaky butter biscuits, your butter needs to be super cold.
I have two different styles of dough blenders, and I love them both. This one, by Oxo, is very comfortable to grip, and the curved shape helps it get into the curves of a mixing bowl.
If I could only keep one, though, it would be this one, simply because I use it for foods other than pastry. It’s smaller than my potato masher, so it’s great for things like hard boiled eggs, avocados, beans, and smaller amounts of potatoes.
Your biscuit cutters should be sharp
If anybody every tells you that you can use a drinking glass to cut biscuit dough, run.
Yes, that will work for something like cookie dough. But biscuit dough needs to rise, and if your cutter isn’t sharp, it will seal the sides of the dough as you press down, making it much harder to get nice, tall, fluffy biscuits.
If you also need a pastry blender and bench scraper, this set is perfect!
Whichever ones you get, make sure they have handles (easier on your hands when pushing), and that they’re metal. Plastic just won’t be as sharp, and will get duller over time.
Don’t have biscuit cutters?
If you don’t have biscuit cutters, a sharp knife or metal bench scraper will work. Cut the biscuits into squares or diamonds, and leave a little bit of space when you put them on your pan. The corners will get very crispy, but some people love that!
Use a cast iron pan, or double up
If you find that the bottoms of your biscuits get too dark, your pan is probably to blame. I’ve found that cast iron protects the bottoms of biscuits from cooking too fast.
This is why I don’t agree with the common advice that you should preheat your cast iron pan before adding your biscuit dough. Not only will the bottoms get too dark, but the dough gets warm before going into the oven, and you risk a bad burn.
I have this pan, which is the perfect size for a batch of biscuits. Plus, I use it for other things, like crispy grilled cheese and french toast!
If you don’t have a cast iron pan, doubling up on baking sheets will help. Use the thickest ones you have.
Lower sides are better
If you use a cast-iron pan with high sides, it’s going to keep the heat from getting to the biscuits, and we don’t want that! If you don’t have a cast iron griddle, try turning your cast-iron pan up side down. But put a baking sheet on the rack underneath, because some fat will probably slide off.
Making and cutting the dough
Don’t use more flour than you have to
When you’re done mixing your dough, it should be a little bit sticky. Once you’ve added enough that you can cut and handle it without it sticking all over your hands, don’t add any more! Flouring your hands can help, too.
Don’t be kneady
Don’t handle the dough more than you have to. Obviously you have to mix or knead the dough enough to make it cohesive, but don’t do any extra. We’re not kneading bread dough! Too much handling makes for tough biscuits.
Get eye-level with your dough
If you’re just looking at your biscuit dough from above, you might not know how high it really is, because the sides (where you’re putting a ruler, if you measure like I do) will almost always be a bit lower than the middle.
This dough looked like it was 3/4-inch high, until I got down to its level.
Sure, the very edges were 3/4-inch high, but most of the dough was an inch.
How high you make your biscuits is up to you, but measuring them helps you to be consistent once you find a height you like. That way, you’ll know that for your pan, at a certain height, you’ll get a certain number of biscuits.
I love this particular ruler for baking, because it’s extra wide and tall (although I wish it had centimeter markings). Really any ruler will do, though, as long as you can put the edge down flat on your counter or cutting board, and the flat part starts at zero.
Don’t pat the dough out too many times
Try not to pat or roll out your scraps of dough too many times. I can usually use most of the dough the first time I pat it out, and then fill the pan with the dough from the second time I pat it out.
After that, you’re going to have a tougher biscuit.
You can reduce your scraps by cutting out your circles of dough as close to the edges as possible, and as close to each other as possible.
Flour your biscuit cutters
You have to rub some flour onto your cutter every time. This might seem like a pain, but it takes a second or two. Keep a little pile of flour on your workspace, grab some between your fingers, and rub it onto the cutter. This will remove any sticky dough from the last cut, and help with the next one.
Don’t do the twist
Push the biscuit cutter straight down, do not twist it. And lift it straight up. Twisting can seal the edges of the dough, and the biscuits might have trouble rising.
Smaller biscuits mean fewer scraps
The smaller you make the biscuits, the fewer scraps you’ll have left over, and the closer you’ll be able to get the biscuits to each other in the pan. I prefer to make the biscuits bigger if I’m going to use them for breakfast sandwiches, but smaller if they’ll just be eaten with some butter and jam.
And you don’t have to stick with one size for an entire batch! You can make some narrower and some wider, as long as they’re all the same height. I have this set of biscuit cutters, and I usually use the biggest one and the next-biggest one for most of the biscuits, filling in holes with the smallest cutter.
Baking the biscuits
Make sure your oven is accurate
When I make biscuits I bake them at a high temperature. I’ve found they’re more tender that way, because the insides can cook before the outsides get tough.
But whatever temp your recipe calls for, make sure your oven is accurate. Test it out periodically with an oven thermometer. You might be surprised to find that it’s off by a lot!
This thermometer is great because it can either hang from an oven rack, or sit on one.
Preheat higher than you need
When baking I always preheat my oven 25 degrees higher than I need, because the oven is going to lose heat when I open the door to put something in. As soon as the food is in there, I lower the setting to what it’s supposed to be.
How to place the biscuits
For soft biscuits
If you want biscuits with tender sides, put the biscuits close together, almost touching each other. This will accomplish two things.
One, the sides of the biscuits will be softer, and two, the biscuits will be straighter.
For sturdier biscuits
I have to admit, this is never my goal when I’m going to be eating the biscuits plain, or with some butter. I want those biscuits to be pillow soft.
However, if I’m making biscuits and gravy for my husband, I want the biscuits to be a bit more cooked on the edges. Sturdier biscuits hold up to the gravy better, and have a nice texture after soaking in it. They don’t just fall apart, as softer biscuits might.
Brush butter on after baking
The biscuit on the left went into the oven with no butter and was brushed afterwards, while the one on the right had butter brushed on before baking. They both tasted exactly the same, but the one that had the butter added after baking looks much better.
That’s it, now go and make awesome biscuits! And if you want to freeze some dough so that you can bake up a few biscuits later, it’s really easy!