THE CHEATER CHEF BISCUIT LAB MANUAL
How to Make Scratch Biscuits
Biscuits are a simple quick bread made from a soft dough of flour, fat, liquid, chemical leavening and salt. A biscuit’s style just depends on the proportions you choose for these ingredients. A few simple alterations and you’ve got a wide variety.
Like any popular trend, biscuit making is burdened with its share of nostalgia, hype, and mystery. Forget all that. Anyone can make great scratch biscuits at home, just like they’ve been made for generations. This short lab manual should offer you a useful understanding of how biscuit ingredients work together so you can bake your favorite styles of biscuits handily and with confidence.
BISCUIT LAB BACKGROUND
The two main types of biscuits—flaky and cakey. Flaky biscuits separate into layers and have a crisp crust. Cakey biscuits are soft and fluffy on the inside with a more tender crust.
Flaky biscuits are the result of (a) cutting in the shortening into small pea-size bits and (b) stirring and kneading the dough a little to develop the gluten. As the biscuits bake the shortening melts in pockets within the dough, which creates the layers while the leavening releases carbon dioxide raising and lightening the dough. The gluten development creates the structure for the layers and air pockets.
Cakey biscuits occur when the dough is very moist, the fat particles are smaller, the flour is lower in protein, and the dough is handled as little as possible to discourage gluten development.
And, yes, by doing a little of both, you can have a cakey AND flaky biscuit.
Biscuit Ingredient Glossary
Self-Rising Flour—The traditional favorites for biscuits are the Southern flour brands like White Lily, Red Band, Southern Biscuit, and Nashville’s historic Martha White. They are typically made with 100 percent soft wheat flour or with at least a higher percentage of soft wheat flour than all-purpose flour and much less than bread flour. Self-rising flour is among the first and most popular modern convenience products to appear in the rural South, one that surely made the work of home cooks who baked biscuits nearly everyday easier.
These specially blended flours are premixed with the correct amounts of leavening and salt. To make a simple dough all you need to do is cut in the shortening and add the liquid. If you use all-purpose which is higher in protein, you will likely need to add a little more liquid to the dough. And, of course, you’ll be stirring in the leavening and salt.
Fats—Biscuits can be made with many kinds of fat. Butter biscuits have rich, buttery flavor, shortening biscuits are very tender without added flavor. Lard biscuits are very tender with an earthy flavor. Working with chilled fats will increase the flakiness of biscuits. Using melted shortening will make the biscuits more cakey and tender because the fat is evenly distributed throughout the dough.
Liquid—Buttermilk makes the biscuits moist and gives them a tangy flavor. Sweet milk works fine, and the biscuits will be a bit more crisp. Plain yogurt blended with a little sweet milk is a great substitute for the buttermilk. Higher fat liquids make the biscuits more tender.
Leavening—Self-rising flours contain chemical leavenings. All-purpose flours require 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of flour for biscuit baking. If you are against aluminum chemicals in your leavening look for the Rumford brand of baking powder. King Arthur Self-Rising Flour is the only one that doesn’t use aluminum leavening.
Or, you can make your own baking powder:
Homemade Baking Powder
One part baking soda (base)
Two parts cream of tartar (acid)
Blend together and keep in a sealed jar.
Rising in the Oven—Place the biscuits about 1-inch apart on a baking sheet if you want the sides to be crisp. Place them so that they touch if you want the sides to be softer. If the dough is soft, a cake pan or skillet works great. The steam created while baking will push the biscuits up so you’ll get a better rise. If a soft dough biscuits are separated is on a baking sheet, the steam can escape sideways and up so the biscuits will be flatter.
Pastry Cloth—You’ll make biscuits more often if you have a pastry cloth. It’s just a big square of canvas fabric to lay on the counter that you dust with flour. The floured cloth makes kneading and rolling out dough a cinch because the dough won’t stick and even better, you won’t make a big mess. You’ll be grateful to have one for making pie pastry, rolled out cookies and biscuits. After the biscuits are made, just fold up the floured canvas, store it in a plastic bag and keep it in the freezer. And throw it in the wash once in a while.
Leftover Biscuits—Store cooled leftover biscuits in an airtight plastic bag at room temperature for a couple of days. They freeze well for longer storage.
To reheat leftover biscuits, place them on a baking sheet and bake in a 350°F oven for about 5 to 7 minutes. The toaster oven works great.
Adding Whole Wheat Flour—Yes, you can, but don’t add too much because a biscuit made with 100 percent whole wheat flour will be dry and tough. We prefer whole wheat biscuits made with ½ cup whole wheat flour to 1 ½ cups self-rising white flour. If you want to try 1 cup to 1 cup, then use all-purpose or pastry flour and add your own leavening. You also may need to add a little more liquid to obtain a nice soft dough. Don’t expect these to be quite as soft and tender as all-white biscuits.
Easy Addition for a 2-cup flour recipe—1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, raisins, currants, black pepper, herbs, poppy seeds, or cinnamon and sugar. Use your imagination!
Easy Drop Biscuits—Eliminate the mess of rolling out and cutting the dough by increasing the milk to about 1 cup for a 2-cup flour recipe. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet, skillet or even muffin cups. Sweeten the dough and drop it onto sweetened fresh fruit for a quick cobbler. Drop the plain dough over creamy chicken and vegetables for a quick pot pie.
Scones—Our British cousins’ biscuits are easy to make. Add ¼ cup sugar to the basic two-cup biscuit recipe. Some folks also stir in an egg and decrease the amount milk for a richer biscuit. Add a handful of raisins or currants. Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar before baking. Use butter for flavor!
BISCUIT LAB RECIPES
Workhorse Southern Biscuits
Here’s our version of the basic biscuit recipe that’s pretty much on every bag of self-rising flour.
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ to 1/3 cup shortening, lard or butter
About ¾ cup milk or buttermilk
Heat the oven to 450° F. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add your choice of fat. Cut it in with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk to form a soft dough. Add a little extra if all the flour is not moistened and the dough seems too stiff.
Place the dough on a floured pastry cloth or counter and lightly knead about 10 times or until smooth. Press out the dough to a ½-inch to ¾-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a floured cutter or into squares with a floured knife. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet, in a cake pan, or in an iron skillet. Bake about 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Serve warm. Makes about 12 2-inch biscuits.
Cheater Highway 100 Biscuits
This is our version of the famous biscuit lady, Carol Fay Ellison’s, secret biscuit recipe served at Nashville’s Loveless Motel. The recipe uses melted shortening so the biscuits are soft and tender, not flaky. Carol also kneaded the biscuits quite a bit so the dough is very smooth.
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda (optional)
1/3 cup melted shortening
¾ cup buttermilk
Heat the oven to 450° F. Combine the flour, shortening, and buttermilk in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a fork to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth or counter. Gently knead the dough about 10 times until smooth. Press out with your fingers to an even thickness of about ¾ inch. Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or into rough squares with a knife. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops with melted butter. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Makes about 12 biscuits.
Super Soft Biscuits Inspired by Shirley Corriher (above)
These rich fluffy biscuits have the texture of cake. Are they biscuits?
2 cups self-rising flour plus extra for forming the biscuits
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup shortening
About 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
Heat the oven to 450°F. Grease an 8 or 9-inch cake pan. Combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour using a pastry blender, your fingers, or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough buttermilk until the dough looks like cottage cheese. Blend well.
Pour about 1 cup of additional flour into a flat bowl or onto a rimmed baking sheet. Using an ice cream scoop or two large spoons, scoop out golf ball-size biscuits and place in the flour. Carefully coat the dough with flour and pick up the soft biscuit with well-floured hands. Gently move the dough back and forth between your two hands to shape the biscuit and remove excess flour. Place the biscuits in the cake pan with sides touching each other. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Serve warm. Makes about 12 biscuits.
Puff Pastry Biscuits
Butter spread between the layers makes these extra flaky and fancy. Great for shortcake.
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup shortening or lard
¾ cup milk
¼ cup butter, softened
Egg wash (one egg whisked with a little water)
Lightly coat a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Combine the flour and sugar a large mixing bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir with a fork to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured pastry cloth or counter and knead about 10 times until smooth.
Press or roll out the dough into about a 8 x 12-inch rectangle. Spread the butter over the dough. Fold the dough over into thirds. Again, press out the dough into an 8 x 12-inch rectangle and fold the dough over into thirds. Press out the dough into a rectangle that is about ¾-inch thick about 8 x 4-inches. Place on the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour. Heat the oven to 450°F. Cut into the dough into about 10 rectangles. Separate them on the baking sheet. Brush with egg wash. Bake about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 10 biscuits.
Cream Biscuits (above)
These easy biscuits are cakey and delicate and all you really need are two ingredients—the flour and the cream. No cutting in the fat means no flaky layers.
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup heavy cream
A little more milk or buttermilk, if the batter seems too thick
Heat the oven to 450°F. Combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the cream. Add a little milk if the batter seems too dry. Place the dough on a floured pastry cloth or counter and form into a ball. Handling very lightly with floured hands, flatten the dough and fold over several times.
Press out the dough with floured fingers to a ½-inch to ¾-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a floured cutter or into squares with a floured knife. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet, in a greased cake pan, or in a greased iron skillet. Bake about 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Serve warm. Makes about 12 2-inch biscuits.
Angel Biscuits (above, foreground)
These are a hybrid biscuit/yeast roll. A little added yeast gives the biscuit a softer texture that tastes great at room temperature. Perfect for holiday ham biscuits! You can even keep the dough in the refrigerator for a few days, roll out and bake when needed.
1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon
¼ cup warm water (about 110°F)
4 cups self-rising flour
¾ cup shortening
1 1/2 cups warm buttermilk (nuke it for a minute)
2 tablespoons melted butter
Dissolve the yeast and one teaspoon of the sugar in the warm water in a small bowl.
Combine the flour and remaining sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is crumbly. Add the yeast- water and the buttermilk. Stir until a soft dough forms. Place the dough on a well- floured surface (a floured pastry cloth is the best way to go) and knead about 1 minute to form a smooth dough. Roll the dough out to 1/2 –inch thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter (use what you like from 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches).
Place the biscuits on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with melted butter, cover lightly with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes to one hour. Heat the oven to 400°F. Bake the biscuits for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 25 2-inch biscuits and about 50 1-½ inch biscuits.
Rich Egg Biscuits
Egg adds a nice richness to biscuits. These are like delicious scones. Feel free to add a handful of raisins or currants to the dough. A light glaze made with powdered sugar moistened with a little milk and vanilla would also be nice.
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk, plus more if the dough seems too dry
Heat the oven to 450°F. Combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Whisk together the milk and egg in a small bowl. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour and blend with a fork until a soft dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured pastry cloth or surface. Knead about 10 times. Press or roll out the dough to a thickness of about ½ inch. Cut with a floured cutter or knife. Place the biscuits about 1-inch apart on a cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 12 biscuits.
Brown Sugar Shortcake
Brown sugar makes these moist on the inside. The egg wash helps gives the tops a shiny appearance and helps glue the garnishes on the top. We especially love the almonds with fresh peach shortcake. Maybe a little almond extract would be nice.
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
¾ cup milk or buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Egg wash (made by whisking an egg with a little water)
Coarse sugar or sliced almonds for garnish
Heat the oven to 450°F. Combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add the milk and vanilla and blend with a fork until a soft dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured pastry cloth or surface. Knead about 10 times. Press or roll out the dough to a thickness of about ½ inch. Cut with a floured cutter or knife. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet or in a greased skillet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar and/or sliced almonds. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 12 biscuits.
©Cheater Chef 2103