Talking about biscuits can get downright sensual.
They’re warm, flaky, steamy, soft, rounded, fragrant, buttery, golden, glistening and immensely satisfying.
Basically, they are everything you could ever want in a breakfast bread, a luncheon carbohydrate or even a dinner roll. They are fun to make, as well, and not too difficult.
The best part, though, is smelling them as they cook, with the anticipation of biting into them when they are still warm enough to melt butter and soak up jam or honey.
Recently, I made dozens of biscuits in an assortment of styles, sizes and textures. This experience has given me insight into certain biscuit facts:
- As with pie crusts and bread, the more you work a biscuit dough the tougher the results will be. The dry and wet ingredients in biscuits are always mixed just until they come together to form a ball.
- Biscuits are leavened with baking powder or both baking powder and baking soda. They are never made with yeast. But as with all good rules, there is an exception: Angel biscuits are made with baking powder, baking soda and yeast.
- Self-rising flour, which is essential in many Southern biscuit recipes, is flour with baking powder mixed into it, along with a couple of phosphates.
- In the South, biscuits are often made with White Lily brand flour, which is made from soft winter wheat. Winter wheat has less protein than spring wheat, which means baked goods made from it are softer and lighter than those made from other brands.
- Shirley O. Corriher, a native Georgian who is something of a legend in the culinary world, has devised a clever workaround for people who want Southern biscuits but can’t find White Lily self-rising flour: Mix together a national brand of self-rising flour with cake flour (which has very low protein) and add some baking soda.
- The biscuit cutter, which resembles a taller version of a cookie cutter, was invented in 1875 by Alexander P. Ashbourne. A biscuit cutter isn’t necessary for making biscuits, but it sure helps and is fun to use.
- Biscuit cutters should be pressed down through the dough. Twisting them essentially seals the biscuit’s edge, which keeps them from rising evenly.
- Biscuits have more calories than you think. I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped. That’s why they taste so good.
Here are the biscuits I made:
Buttermilk Biscuits: These rose the highest of all the biscuits I made. Why? Buttermilk is fairly acidic, and when mixed with the small amount of baking soda in the dough it reacts the same way baking soda reacts when mixed with vinegar: It bubbles. The bubbles create tiny air pockets, which make the biscuits rise.
Buttermilk also happens to have just the right taste for biscuits. That slight tang gives them a flavorful warmth and hominess that biscuit-lovers crave.
Fabulous Biscuits: The name sounds a little bit too much like shameless self-promotion, right? And in fact, the biscuits themselves are kind of ordinary — if anything as transcendent as a biscuit could ever be considered ordinary. But just before baking, you dip every piece of dough all the way into melted butter. As a result, the cooked biscuits are the most buttery things ever. And that makes them fabulous.
Touch of Grace Biscuits: “Touch of heaven” might be a better name. These lightly sweet Southern specialties are impossibly light and delicately flavored. You don’t reach for them on the platter as much as grab them as they float up to the ceiling.
Cream Biscuits: These are classics. The cream makes them rich and a little decadent. They are also the fastest and easiest to make of the bunch, if you want a hit of decadence on the fly.
Chef Christian’s Southern Drop Biscuits: Drop biscuits are heavier and more substantial than typical flaky biscuits. They are different, but no less delicious. This sweet recipe comes from the chef at a Cincinnati biscuit restaurant.
Angel Biscuits: These are the ones that have yeast in them, along with baking powder and baking soda. Not surprisingly, they rise especially well. Mild and pleasantly flavored, they are hearty and satisfying despite — as the name implies — being as light as an angel’s wings.
— Adapted from a recipe by Christian Gill on whitelily.com
— Adapted from “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant” by the Moosewood Collective
— Adapted from “The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook”
— Adapted from “Four Sisters Inns Cookbook”
— Adapted from “CookWise” by Shirley O. Corriher