days past, yeast wasn't always easy to come by, nor was it consistent
in quality. Before the arrival of commercial baking powder in
the mid 1850's, a mixture of cream of tartar or tartaric acid
and baking soda, along with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk
or sour milk were used as leavening ingredients in making quick
breads such as the American biscuit. A pioneer cook's skill was
almost always judged on the ability to quickly whip up and serve
a batch of light and fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth, golden brown
biscuits...whether it be the first meal of the day or the last.
Today, homemade baking powder
biscuits usually means whipping up a batch using a commercial
baking mix. It only takes a few extra steps to make genuine homemade
biscuits, and once you get the knack and the taste...you'll never
look back. The variations on these small quick breads are unlimited.
Sweet or savory, biscuits can accept a host of additions. Simply
stated, a good biscuit can make any meal special.
Tips For Baking Better Biscuits
- Always use quality, unbleached
all-purpose flour, unless otherwise instructed in a recipe.
- Always make sure your baking
powder is fresh. Place a teaspoon of baking powder in some warm
water. It should foam and bubble quite actively if it is fresh.
- Cold shortening and cold liquid
ingredients will produce the best biscuits.
- "Cutting in" the shortening
means cutting the shortening into small bits in the flour until
it resembles coarse meal. This is usually done with a pastry
cutter or can be done by using two knives. Some use their fingertips
to rub the mixture into the right consistency. The mixture is
then moistened with the liquid ingredients until they just cling
- Always add the liquid a recipe
calls for in steps..the least amount first. Once the mixture
is just moistened, stir the dough into a shaggy-looking mass.
- Do not overwork the dough. The
heat of your hands will begin to warm the shortening and activate
the gluten in the flour. A smooth, elastic dough will not produce
- Use a cutter dipped in flour
and make the cut in one clean motion. Do NOT twist as you remove
the cutter. This tends to "lock" the flaky layers together.
- You can cut biscuits with inverted
glasses, cookie or biscuit cutters, or with a knife...there's
no law that states biscuits must be round!
For fluffy layered biscuits, the dough should be rolled and cut
between 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch. Crusty, thin biscuits (good for
soups, dips) should be cut from dough 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick.
- Bake biscuits in a hot oven
(400°F to 425°F / 205°C to 220°C)
- Always serve biscuits hot...straight
from the oven. If biscuits cool, re-heat them by brushing the
tops with melted butter, wrap loosely in foil and heat in the
oven at 350°F (175°C) or in a microwave oven for 25 to
30 seconds on HIGH.