Who doesn’t like the taste of a fluffy and flaky biscuit made from scratch? They are a staple of Southern cooking and make a great add on for any type of meal. Making homemade biscuits isn’t hard but there are a few things to keep in mind. These cooking tips will help you get the most out of your recipe.
What makes a great biscuit?
A great biscuit is light and fluffy with layers and layers of ingredients that separate easily without the need of a knife. The biscuit has a golden brown outside that is slightly crispy but feathery soft inside layers just waiting to be topped with butter or jam. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? But how does one manage such a flaky biscuit recipe?
How to make homemade biscuits from Scratch
While biscuits might seem as if they require a lot of practice getting the technique down pat, they are actually quite simple to make. If you keep a few tips in mind, and use a light touch and cold ingredients, you’ll be making the biscuits that your friends will love and they will all keep asking you for the recipe.
1. Start with cold ingredients.
All biscuits use fat in them and whatever fat you choose, the key to a great tasting flaky biscuits with separate layers is starting with cold fat. When the fats are cut into the flour, you’ll end up with small lumps that get coated in flour and melt during the baking process to leave you with a biscuit that has lovely flaky layers. Using a fat that is warm will allow the fat to start to melt before cooking and will give you a dense and tough biscuit.
You can go a step further and make sure to put the flour in the freezer overnight before you start your homemade biscuit recipe. Also, be sure to work on cold surfaces, like wood, metal or marble cutting boards and counters. Until you get used to making biscuits, avoid using your hands as much as possible, since this will also warm the ingredients, which you don’t want.
2. Use a good quality ingredients.
Self rising flour is best for biscuits because it contains a leavening ingredient which makes the biscuits rise well. Avoid all purpose flour, cake four and pastry flour. Those are better used in other baked goods.
Which fats are best for biscuits? I like to use the best butter I can buy. The flavor of buttery biscuits is what I am going for so using premium butter is a must. I also like a thick biscuit and butter gives me this. Shortening or lard is also good for Southern biscuits. Many Paleo cooks use coconut oil for their biscuits along with a gluten free flour self rising flour blend.
3. Mix the dry ingredients with a sifter.
Don’t just whisk or mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Instead, use a sifter. This will help smooth out any lumps in the flour and will give you a texture that is very consistent when it bakes. Also, don’t measure by scooping. Either weigh your flour or use the spoon method of measuring flour to ensure the amount is right.
Cutting in the butter without using your hands can be tricky but is important, since the warmth of your hands will cause it to soften. A cold knife and egg cutter makes the task trouble free. This handy gadget slices through very cold butter easily and keeps it away from your hands. A box grater and frozen butter also works well for this step.
Mixing the liquid with the dry ingredients
Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture where you can add the liquids.
To make sure that your biscuits are soft and fluffy, blend the liquid and dry ingredients with a metal spoon or flour cutter until the dough somewhat resembles the look of cottage cheese. This will make sure that the gluten in the flour is not activated too much. Don’t over mix or you will end up with flatter biscuits that are tough and don’t rise as high.
Work on Cold surfaces.
Marble cutting boards or granite counters are not only beautiful in homes, they are a good place to work with biscuit dough. They are cold, they STAY cold and biscuits love the cold! I use a marble rolling pin as well to roll the dough out and avoid touching it as much as possible.
Only use as much flour on the surface as you need to keep the dough from sticking. Biscuit dough will grab all the flour around, and this could make the biscuits dry if you are not careful.
I like to roll my dough thin and then cut it in half and layer the dough pieces on top of each other. Then I roll again and repeat. This ends up giving me lots of layers in my biscuit dough and they rise beautifully.
Roll out the finished dough until it is 1/2 inch thick. It’s time to cut the biscuits!
Use a metal cutter and don’t twist!
A 2 – 3 inch metal cutter with sharp edges gives a nice cut to your biscuits. Cut them as close to each other as you can so you won’t have much left over dough. The extra dough can be reused for something else, such as individual strawberry shortcakes, but don’t use it for the biscuits. They will be more dense than the first batch you cut.
If you don’t have a sharp biscuit cutter, you can use a mason jar lid. It’s just the right size!
Also be careful not to twist the biscuit cutter. Just cut and pull the biscuit dough straight up. If you twist, it will make those lovely layers you just made twist and the biscuits won’t cook evenly.
How far to space the biscuits
I leave about 1 inch between each biscuit so the edges will brown slightly on all sides. If you like the edges of your biscuits to be soft, you can place them much closer together. Be sure that the oven has been preheated before you place the biscuits dough in to cook. Metal baking pans work best.
If you like, you can brush the tops of the biscuits either before cooking or after (or both) for an extra buttery biscuit. Look at the layers and height of these biscuits. They just make my Southern heart warm!
The inner layers are so light and fluffy. They are just waiting for me to add some butter, or jam or whipped cream. Or maybe all three?Cherry preserves and whipped cream it is!
Some common questions that I get from readers about making homemade biscuits
Can you substitute shortening for butter in the biscuit recipe?
Yes, many types of fat will do, as long as they are solid. While I love the taste that butter gives to biscuits, lard, shortening and even coconut oil can be used in place of it. Take note, however, that the type of fat you choose makes a difference to the height that they cook to.
Butter as a fat makes the dough rise the highest. If you use shortening or lard the biscuits will be a bit shorter and a bit drier, as well. This is because butter has some water in it and the steam gives baked goods a boost to help them rise higher. Coconut oil biscuits are even shorter.
Butter biscuits also brown a bit more than those using the other fats because butter contains milk solids which caramelize at high temperatures.
What liquids can be used in biscuits?
There are lots of choices for the liquids that can be used. Buttermilk is a common ingredient. It is known for making tender biscuits that have a bit of a tang. Other choices are sour cream, half and half and heavy cream. Greek or plain yogurt can also be used.
Since each liquid contains varying amounts of milk solids, fat, water and acid levels, the choice can also change the flavor and texture of biscuits. The liquid choice doesn’t make much difference to the height of the biscuit but it does affect the color.
Liquids with more milk solids in them brown the biscuit more, so the heavy cream ends up with the lightest biscuit and the half and half the brownest one all over.
How to make biscuits without baking powder?
Normal biscuit recipes often call for baking powder. If you don’t want to, or can’t, use this, you can substitute something with an acidic base instead, such as baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice or yogurt. A combination of baking soda and cream of tartar also works as a substitute for baking powder.
How to make biscuits without milk?
Most recipes that call for milk can have water substituted. Use 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter for each cup of milk called for. Canned coconut milk can also be used but it will change the taste of the biscuit.
How to make gluten free biscuits without wheat flour?
Use an all purpose gluten free flour along xanthan gum and gluten free baking powder in place of normal flour and baking powder. King Arthur flour has a gluten free biscuit recipe that works great.
How do I Store Cooked Biscuits?
Any leftover biscuits can be stored for about 4 days in air tight containers or resealable plastic baggies. You can also freeze them in freezer proof zip lock bags for up to 3 months. Leftover biscuits can be stored in resealable plastic bags, and, when refrigerated, will keep about 4 days. They can be frozen for up to a month without drying out if they have been cooked, or up to a month uncooked. Don’t thaw the uncooked dough. Just double the cooking time.
This recipe for Buttermilk biscuits uses only 3 ingredients and takes a half hour to make.