Tasty biscuits are a popular dish to serve at any meal. They are a great addition to breakfast as well as dinner, especially when there isn't time to make traditional yeast rolls. Baking powder and buttermilk biscuits are the most popular types, and they can easily be modified to suit your tastes. With a bit of preparation and baking taking as little as twenty minutes, these tasty treats help to add a little bit of comfort to your dinner table.
A Little Biscuit History
Biscuits became popular during the Middle Ages, but not as the bread we recognize today. They were typically hard and thin, more on the order of a cracker, although cookies and scones are sometimes referred to as biscuits. Hardtack was a type of biscuit. It could stay hard for months and was ideal for long travels. Hardtack was often dipped in coffee or tea to soften it enough to bite.
Tips for Success
As with pie crust, all of your ingredients should be as cold as possible. Butter should come straight out of the refrigerator. Shortening can even be kept in the freezer. Pour all of the milk or cream in at once. For the lightest, flakiest biscuits, avoid over-working the dough. The higher the fat content of the milk, the more tender the biscuits will be. Cream or whole milk works best when making baking powder biscuits.
You will need the following ingredients for baking powder biscuits:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 T baking powder
- 1/3 cup butter or shortening
- 3/4 cup cream or milk
Slightly more flour will be needed for patting out the biscuits. A glass or biscuit cutter is needed for cutting the biscuits. The number of biscuits will depend on the size of the cutter and how thick you make the dough.
How to Cut In Shortening
A pastry blender works best for cutting butter or shortening into the flour mixture. Antique pastry blenders may have a single blade, while most modern ones will have numerous thin blades. Butter should be cut into pieces the size of a small pea. Be careful not to mash the shortening in; the individual pieces are what creates a flaky biscuit. Two knives can be substituted to crosscut the shortening into small pieces.
Mixing the Ingredients
Before mixing the ingredients, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Sift or stir lightly with a fork to evenly distribute the baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter and add the cream. Lift the flour mixture using a fork to ensure it is all moist. Place the mixture onto a floured surface.
Cutting and Baking
Pat the dough to a 1/2 inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or biscuit cutter, cut the dough by pressing straight down and pulling the cutter straight up. Twisting seals the edges and will prevent the biscuits from rising properly. Alternatively, drop spoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheet for drop biscuits, also known as cat's head biscuits. For softer, more tender biscuits, place the cut biscuits right next to each other on the cookie sheet. Place in the oven for approximately 12-15 minutes. The outsides will be golden brown and the insides light and flaky.
Buttermilk Biscuit Variation
Buttermilk biscuits are very popular. The basic recipe and preparation are similar with a few exceptions. Substitute two teaspoons of baking powder and one-half teaspoon of baking soda for the one tablespoon of baking powder, and use buttermilk. Increase the butter to five tablespoons and use 2/3 cups of buttermilk. Mix and bake the same way as baking powder biscuits.
Breakfast biscuits are often served as a meal, smothered with gravy. They can also accompany bacon and eggs, or served with a side fruit for lighter fare. Breakfast sandwiches are stacked with Canadian bacon or sausage patties, eggs and cheese placed on a biscuit. Butter, jelly, jam, and preserves are frequently used, either at breakfast or when biscuits are served with dinner.
Biscuit dough can be flavored during preparation. Popular choices include shredded cheese, pepper, anise, or the addition of dried or fresh fruits such as blueberries or cranberries. A sweeter dough can be made by adding one tablespoon of sugar to the ingredients before cutting in the shortening. A sprinkle of cream of tartar is often added when using sugar.
Biscuits and Rolls
Biscuits use baking powder as a leavening agent, while rolls are made using yeast. The word "biscuit" is derived from two Latin words meaning twice-baked, although the form we use today is only baked once. Once you have learned how to make baking powder biscuits, experiment by adding vanilla, sugar, and icing to create a scone.