I was recently invited to my buddy’s house for dinner and I brought over some of my famous sweet potato cheesecake and fresh biscuits hot from my oven. Little did I know that my buddy’s family was in town from Alabama and there would be a debate on how to properly bake biscuits.
When I unveiled my cheesecake, there were oohs, aahs, and smiles all around. But when I displayed my flaky, tender, buttery, golden brown pieces of love (you all might think I’m talking about myself, but I’m talking about biscuits baby), I was immediately given the side eye, and then the interrogation happened right after that.
Here We Go
Where you from? Who taught you how to make biscuits? What kind of flour did you use? Did you use butter or lard? These were just a few of the questions that were thrown at me like a Mariano Rivera fastball in a 30 second span. Now I’ll admit, I’m a pretty confident fella when it comes to throwing down all things baked goods, but this southern crew had this brother, from the southern part of the Bronx, a little intimidated.
What to do, What to do
I’ll get back to the Southern Inquisition in a minute. Now If there’s one thing I know, it’s that there is not one perfect biscuit, there’s just the one that is perfect for you. You talk to 5 people how they like their biscuits, and you’ll probably get 5 different responses. There are so many ways to create that perfect biscuit that’s right for you. You can drop, roll, layer, cut tall, or small and even cut squares instead of rounds. And then there’s everything else you need to consider:
- The right type of flour
Most folks prefer a flour that is low-protein content (8 to 10 percent). This will lead to a tender biscuit. Flour with lower protein forms less gluten. (self-rising flour, pastry flour, cake flour). Higher protein flours mean more gluten will form that can lead to a chewier/tougher biscuit.
Buttermilk is more commonly used in recipes that contain baking soda and/or baking powder. The tangy flavor and thick texture are enough to endorse it. The acidity from the buttermilk gives off a reaction when combined the baking soda and/or powder, combine with the heat of the oven gives the biscuits their leavening power (Rise). Milk, with the addition of lemon juice can help create a similar reaction.
Butter or Shortening? Butter gives you that melt in your mouth flavor that is second to none. It’s composed of butterfat, water and mild solids. You must make sure that the butter is cold. The fat interferes with the dough to slow down the gluten process. Cold butter is less likely to mix into the flour and it will more easily form large flakes in the dough, which will lead to beautiful, pull-apart layers in your baked biscuits. When it is incorporated properly into biscuit dough, you will create pockets of steam to form layers, bind a little with the flour to create structure, and add sweet buttery flavor to the final result. These biscuits are flaky, rather than crumbly and soft. Yummy, yum, yum.
Shortening, is pretty much entirely fat; it doesn’t contain any water or (flavorful) milk solids. Shortening is more effective at reducing gluten formation in doughs. It also has a higher melting point than butter, making it less likely to smear into biscuit dough, even if you use your hands to mix it. Shortening biscuits are soft and crumbly. They often don’t have quite the same dramatic rise as butter biscuits.
A hot oven is key in to the final process to preparing your biscuits. A hot oven gives you’re the initial jump that activates the leaveners, and quickly melts the butter to create steam. 425°F in a convection is ideal for me or 375°F in a standard.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program
Oh, I almost forgot about my biscuit interrogation with the Alabama crew. Now I know whatever answers I gave these beautiful people would not be good enough for their ears. So, I didn’t answer. I simply said, “taste for yourself and you decide.” After a few bites, some heads, and the leader of the bunch (Grandma) said, “not bad, not bad at all, for a yankee.” I’ll take that as a compliment.
It’s Biscuit Month Yall, and I’m rolling with Pillsbury. The real OG in this biscuit game. We’ve been making biscuits right for years. Checkout the cool and exciting ideas that I’ve created, MY WAY, but with you in mind.
Catch ya later.
The Original Yankee (Chef Ted)