5 Tips for Baking Better Biscuits
All you want to do is comfort bake. These tricks will take your skills to the next level.
Biscuits are a community thing—they bring people together for breakfast, brunch with friends, weddings, holidays, and beyond. And despite what many people still believe, they are incredibly forgiving even for the most novice of home cooks. Homemade biscuits can be as simple as three ingredients—flour, buttermilk, salt—or super whomped up with cheese, vegetables, chocolate, or fruit.
No matter your biscuit preference—tall, tiny, flaky, crispy, or even square—everyone should master at least one batch of homemade biscuits to feel good about making again and again with great success.
To get you started, here are a few sage pieces of advice we're picked up that will serve you well.
After combining the flour and other dry ingredients, it’s time to add the fat. Start with cold butter—the colder the butter, the flakier the biscuit—cut into pats, not cubes, says Martin Philip, a baker at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont, and the author of Breaking Bread ($22; amazon.com). “Using your hands, quickly smoosh the butter into the flour mixture, making flat leaves. This helps keep the butter pieces larger, almost like for a piecrust, which makes the biscuit more flaky.”
You can simply roll out biscuit dough, but for extra flakiness, pat out the dough and fold it over on itself twice, like a letter. Philip says, “This little trick will give the biscuits a head start on forming layers.” While some bakers suggest using a drinking glass to cut biscuits, Carrie Morey, owner of Callie’s Biscuits in Charleston, South Carolina, recommends a sharp biscuit cutter. “Don’t twist and turn—just cut and lift.”
Make sure your oven is fully preheated before sliding in the baking sheet—a hot oven with cold butter or shortening creates biscuit magic. The sudden blast of heat triggers the initial rise and puffiness. As for removing the biscuits from the oven, “don’t take them out too soon,” Philip cautions. “The more golden they get on top, the more flavor they’ll have.” Use the timing in the recipe as a guide, but trust your eyes.
A biscuit hot from the oven is magical; a day-old biscuit is barely worth eating. But, Morey says, biscuits freeze well. “They can be reheated straight from the freezer, wrapped in foil, at 350 degrees for about a half hour.”
So, what’s the difference between biscuits and shortcakes? They’re close cousins, so if you ask three bakers, you’ll likely get three different answers! That said, biscuits are usually made with buttermilk, while shortcakes use whole milk or cream for richness and often contain sugar.
In summer, Philip is partial to classic strawberry shortcakes. Out of season, he fills them with frozen blueberries sautéed with butter and brown sugar. “Chill before assembling with freshly whipped cream,” he says. Perfectly ripe peaches and blackberries are also delicious fillings.
Our Favorite Biscuit Recipe
Combine 2½ cups all-purpose flour, 1½ tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and ¼ tsp. baking soda in a large bowl. Add ¾ cup (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pats. Work butter in with your hands until flour is crumbly. Stir in ¾ cup cold buttermilk. Fold dough on a work surface until it just comes together, then shape or roll into a rectangle. Stamp out 8 biscuits or cut into squares. Brush biscuits with a beaten egg, if desired. Bake at 375°F until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Real Simple.