Baking powder biscuits. Are they on your baking bucket list? You know, the list of things you haven't... quite... nailed yet? They are indeed; biscuits, pie crust, and yeast bread finished top-three in a recent Facebook survey of our readers' most challenging (and most desired) techniques/recipes to master. How to bake the best biscuits? Read on.
Choose a good recipe
For a treat with such simple ingredients — flour, fat, liquid, salt, and baking powder — biscuit recipes come in an amazing number of incarnations. How do you choose? Where do you start?
I'll make it simple for you: start right here, with our Baking Powder Biscuits recipe. It's classic, it makes delicious, tender biscuits, and thousands of our readers love it. Witness this recent review:
"I have tried so many biscuit recipes over the last few years trying to find 'The One'. This is it! My search is over. I've made these 4 times now (twice as biscuits, and twice in a biscuits and gravy casserole) and they have been perfect each time... I am so happy to have found 'The One'!!" — JennaVee, Houston
Use top-quality ingredients
You wouldn't make the best pizza ever from a frozen crust and canned mushrooms, would you? Neither will you make superb biscuits using inferior ingredients.
Flour: We love our King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour for biscuits. Its medium protein level (11.7%) yields biscuits that are perfectly tender, yet still possess enough structure to rise up rather than flatten out or slump over as they bake.
There are those who swear by Southern-style "soft" flours for their biscuits; think White Lily. And that's perfectly fine. Got a White Lily recipe you love? Stick with it. But if you're still seeking your own version of "the best" biscuits, take our advice: use all-purpose flour. Or, for gluten-free biscuits, our Measure for Measure flour.
Fat: We know you can make great biscuits with either lard or vegetable shortening, two uber-traditional biscuit fats. But we're sticking with our favorite biscuit fat: butter. It's got great flavor and browns biscuits better than other fats. It also makes biscuits rise a bit higher, thanks to the slight amount of steam (butter is 10% water) it produces as it melts.
My fellow blogger, Kye, went so far as to do some tests to prove butter's worth: see her post, Fats and liquids in biscuits: choosing your favorite texture (where she'll also tell you why buttermilk is her favorite biscuit liquid).
Baking powder: Whatever brand double-acting baking powder you use, make sure it's fresh. How? Combine 1/2 teaspoon of your baking powder with 2 tablespoons warm water. If it doesn't foam, it's no good; buy a new can.
Salt: Use extra-fine or table salt, not kosher or coarse sea salt. The typical stiff biscuit dough doesn't include enough liquid to readily dissolve kosher or other coarse-grained salts.
Liquid: You have a choice here; several liquids/semi-solids make decent biscuits, including non-dairy milk and Greek yogurt. But for the best combination of flavor and texture, I like plain whole milk (or a combination of half buttermilk for flavor, half heavy cream for added tenderness); and Kye prefers straight buttermilk.
How to make the best biscuits? Chill.
When making biscuits, what you DON'T do is perhaps more important than what you do. Namely: don't beat up your dough! Use just enough strokes of your spoon (or time in your stand mixer) to turn flour/butter and liquid into a cohesive dough — no more. The more you handle biscuit dough, the tougher your resulting biscuits will be.
Even though you're super-careful not to overmix your dough, you're still going to develop its gluten somewhat; that's just the nature of mixing flour with liquid. But if you chill your pan of biscuits in the fridge before baking, not only will the gluten relax (yielding more tender biscuits), the butter will harden up. And the longer it takes the butter to melt as the biscuits bake, the more chance they have to rise high and maintain their shape.
So, chill... and chill.
Gather your ingredients:
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 to 1 1/8 cups cold milk*
*Substitute buttermilk, light cream, or heavy cream for the whole milk, if you prefer; use enough of whatever liquid you choose to bring the dough together readily, without you having to work it too much. The higher-fat liquid you use, the more tender and richer-tasting your biscuits will be.
Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
Mix the dry ingredients
Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
Can you omit the sugar? Yes. Your biscuits may taste a tiny bit "flat," and they probably won't brown quite as well.
Work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers, a fork or pastry blender, a stand mixer, or a food processor; your goal is an evenly crumbly mixture (think breadcrumbs). Since the butter is at room temperature, this should be fairly simple to do.
"Wait a minute! I'd always heard the butter for biscuits should be ice cold. What's up with this room-temperature butter?"
Unlike pie crust, where cold butter actually helps create the crust's flakiness, biscuits don't require this treatment.
While biscuits do still show distinct layers — which some perceive as "flakiness" — these layers come more from a couple of folds we give the dough prior to shaping, rather than from ice-cold shards of butter.
Drizzle the smaller amount of milk evenly over the flour mixture.
Mix quickly and gently for about 15 seconds, until you've made a cohesive dough. If the mixture seems dry and won't come together, don't keep working it; drizzle in enough milk — up to an additional 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) to make it cohesive.
Pat and roll
Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a rough rectangle about 3/4" thick. Fold it into thirds like a letter.
Turn the dough 90°, and gently roll it with a floured rolling pin into a circle or rough rectangle about 3/4" thick.
Cut with care
Cut the dough into circles with a biscuit cutter; a 2 3/8" cutter is a nice size for traditional round biscuits. Or to avoid leftover dough scraps, cut the dough into squares or diamonds with a bench knife or sharp knife.
However you cut the dough, be absolutely sure to use a sharp cutter (not a drinking glass), and cut it all the way around — which means trimming the dough's edges if you're cutting squares or triangles. Avoid the squashed-down edges of the rolled-out dough at all costs!
Do you know what happens if your biscuits don't have clean-cut edges?
For more on the art of biscuit-cutting, see our post, How to make high-rising biscuits.
Place the biscuits bottom side up on your prepared baking sheet; turning them over like this yields biscuits with nice, smooth tops. Brush the biscuits with milk, to enhance browning.
Place the pan of biscuits in the refrigerator while you preheat your oven to 425°F, or for about 20 to 30 minutes. This short chill will help the biscuits maintain their shape while baking.
Bake the chilled biscuits for about 20 minutes; remember to use an upper rack in your oven to promote browning.
Remove the biscuits from the oven when they're lightly browned. Break one open; it should be fully baked inside, with no doughiness in the center.
Split, butter, and serve warm.
Are biscuits on your bucket list? Check 'em off!
How to bake the best biscuits: your takeaways
- Start with a good recipe
- Use quality ingredients, optimally fresh if perishable (milk, butter, baking powder)
- Handle dough gently and minimally
- Cut biscuits with a sharp cutter; no twisting
- Space close together on the baking sheet
- For optimum brownness, brush with milk and bake on an upper rack
- Serve hot!
Now that you've learned how to make classic baking powder biscuits — see how to make Never-Fail Biscuits: our one-bowl, two-ingredient, stir-together version of this American classic.