5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Biscuits
End your streak of bad biscuit luck with these tips and tricks for getting them right every time.
Making homemade biscuits can be an intimidating endeavor for even the most seasoned cook. Biscuits, after all, with their airy, fluffy, pillow-like texture and buttery flaky, crust are universally adored. That means, of course, everyone has an opinion about what the perfect biscuit is.
Classic biscuits have a few simple ingredients—typically just flour, butter, buttermilk, baking powder, sugar, and salt. But the technique is a make-or-break moment. If you do it wrong, your biscuits can be hockey pucks, unsoftened for even the thickest glaze of warm butter and honey.
But if you do it right, you can earn your place in your family’s biscuit hall of fame, placed on a pedestal of appreciation. (You’ve probably also signed yourself up to be the biscuit maker for all future breakfast or brunch biscuit needs.)
If your biscuits aren’t quite where they should be—or not even in the right realm—you may be making one or more of these mistakes.
Mistake #1: Your butter is too warm
Biscuits get their tender crumb and flaky, buttery layers from wafer-thin tiers of butter amid the flour. (You can also use lard or vegetable shortening for the biscuits’ fat.) The only way to get the butter properly suspended in the batter is to make sure it is very cold when you begin blending it with the flour. If it’s room temperature or even warm, the batter will blend and create a dense, gummy texture.
The fix: Chill your mixing bowl and flour before you begin incorporating the butter into the flour. I measure my flour into the bowl, and promptly put it into the fridge or freezer while I get my biscuit-rolling tools out and clean my surface. You can even refrigerate the night before, leaving the flour and bowl to become ultra-cold.
While you’re blending the dough, if you feel the butter melting or getting squishy, pop the batter into the fridge immediately. Let it sit five to 10 minutes to cool off.
Mistake #2: You’re using an inferior flour
Flour made with soft red winter wheat makes better biscuits. The flour has less protein structure and weaker gluten strands compared to some other flours. That means the dough can catch more air and bake up fluffier and less dense.
The fix: White Lily is one variety sold in the South or online. Some soft wheats are packaged as pastry flour. In a pinch, you can mix all-purpose flour (which is typically made with hard flour) and cake or pastry flour in a one-to-one ratio and make your own homemade biscuit flour.
Mistake #3: You use an appliance to mix your batter
Follow this rule for biscuit making: If your great-grandmother didn’t do it, you shouldn’t either. Biscuit making is an art. It requires the right touch—and that means with your hands. A blender or processor will create too much friction, heating up the butter and flour quickly. You also have to be careful not to over-blend. You’ll end up with chewy biscuits. An appliance will likely result in dough that is too far gone before you realize the mistake you’ve made.
The fix: Put away the food processor or hand mixer, and use forks, a pastry cutter, or your hands. You’ll know biscuit dough is ready to roll when it resembles coarse meal.
Mistake #4: You don’t fold the dough enough
It’s true that it’s very easy to overwork biscuit dough, so you do have to try to avoid that. However, if you only fold dough once, you won’t have the beautiful layers you’re seeking.
The fix: For the best results, fold your dough at least three times. I punch my dough into a rectangle shape and then fold it into thirds, like I would if I were putting a sheet of paper into an envelope. Don’t fold more than five times.
Be careful, too, when you pull together the scraps from cutting out the dough. You can quickly overwork it, which will leave you with biscuits that won’t rise. Give it a quick punch to stick the scraps together, then cut dough rounds, and move on. When the biscuits begin to bake, the dough will stick together.
Mistake #5: You twist your biscuit cutter
When it’s finally time to cut the biscuit rounds, you might get into a hurry and give each cut a little twist of the wrist. But when you do that, you seal the edges of the biscuits. That prevents them from rising in the hot oven.
The fix: Punch, don’t twist. If you’re twisting to break the dough free from the cutter, keep a bowl of flour nearby, and dunk the cutter into the flour between every other cut.