There are many sites, articles, cookbooks, and blogs that will teach you the basics of biscuit baking, so I decided to share my slightly less traditional advice. Without further ado, here are my top five favorite, but unexpected, lessons learned [so far].
- Frozen, pre-grated butter. First of all, if you grate frozen butter, you really have to do very little to “cut it in” or incorporate it into the dry ingredients. Second, you can pre-grate it and store it in batches. The next time you make biscuits and get out the grater and frozen butter, grate a lot of extra butter, divide it up into 1/4 or 1/2 cup portions (measure before grating for accuracy) and throw it back into the freezer for the next time you bake biscuits. The last time I made biscuits, I used butter that I had pre-grated and it was a revelation. It made the whole process so easy and fast.
- Rectangles and squares are good. Who said round biscuits are better? Don’t believe them! Think about it. One of the traditional recommendations for biscuit baking is to not overwork the dough. So when you flatten the dough into one big rectangle and use a pastry scraper or knife to cut it into squares or rectangles, there are no leftover scraps. Therefore you are only “rolling” out the dough once. And those weird, last, misshaped biscuits formed from the remaining cutout scraps are all but eliminated.
- Parchment paper rocks. I have learned to love parchment paper. It is the perfect venue for baking biscuits (or just about anything else) and can usually guarantee that the freshly baked items will release easily. I keep a roll of it on hand at all times now. Remember that wax paper and parchment paper are not the same.
- Cut where you cook. I think the best advice is often the thing that makes you say, “Well, duh! Of course!” Put the just kneaded dough onto the parchment paper, press it out into a rectangle, and cut it into squares right there. No need to cut out and pick up and move each biscuit.
- No fancy tools needed. While I have, and love, a pastry cutter, scraper, mat, and a whole assortment of different shapes and sizes of biscuit cutters, you don’t really need all that. You can cut butter or shortening in with your fingers, knead on your countertop, and cut out the biscuits with a knife or old tin can. Biscuits really are low tech.
- Bonus Item: Freeze raw dough. Everyone knows that the best biscuit is a freshly baked one (regardless of my fondness for toasted leftovers). So cut out all the dough but only bake what you need and freeze the remainder. Then thaw the frozen dough overnight, let it rest at room temp for a few minutes, and bake as directed in your recipe. They may not rise quite as much as the originals, but you still get that great fresh-baked flavor and texture.
Do you have any favorite tips or tricks? Please comment and share!
Oh, and if you are still a bit mystified by the basics of baking a good biscuits, here are a few references you might find useful.
- This is a video of Sean Brock, the famed chef/founder of Husk in Charleston and the newly-opened Husk Nashville. I really like how you can see how he works the dough. It looks so soft and light as he is turning it and incorporating the buttermilk.
- This blogger provides a wonderful list of the traditional suggestions for biscuit making.
- Finally, White Lilly, the biscuits flour of all biscuit flours, provides their own tips here.
Now go grate some butter, make some biscuits, and share them with someone you love!