A Home Cook’s Biscuit Primer
American-style biscuits are groups of small baked goods with firm brown crusts and soft interiors. Biscuits, though varied in shapes, sizes and recipes have some basic characteristics:
- Fats rather than lard, butter or cream give all biscuits their tenderness.
- Flours, fats, liquid, and leavening enhances tenderness, fluffiness, and flakiness of the end products.
- Minimal mixing checks gluten formation and a tough texture.
- All biscuits taste best when eaten warm and fresh from the oven.
Although there are different methods for preparing and topping biscuits, the recipe ingredients are the same. Most recipes use:
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Butter (softened)
- White sugar
Cooking Tip: Shortening is any fat that is solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry and other food products, (e.g., lard and margarine (excluding butter)).
History of The Biscuit
It’s noteworthy that the beautiful golden biscuit of today shares a lineage with the hardtack – the longtime nourishment of sailors and traveling soldiers.
The word ‘biscuit’ which was coined from the medieval Latin word ‘biscoctus’ means ‘twice -cooked,’ describes the cooking technique of biscuits in those days.
It was the early European settlers in the US that introduced a simple style of cooking usually based on ground wheat and warmed with gravy.
In the early 19th century, the biscuits emerged as a distinct food type with cooks producing cheaply produced additions to their meals that required no yeast, which was expensive and difficult to store. Without a leavening agent, except pearlash, it was quite hard beating and folding the beaten biscuits in a bid to incorporate into the dough the air that causes it to expand and rise when heated in the oven.
The first biscuit cutter, a board hinged to a metal plate on which different biscuit cutter shapes were mounted was patented in 1875 thus providing a platform for rolling the biscuits out.
Today pre-shaped, ready-to-bake biscuits are sold in supermarkets in the form of small refrigerator cylindrical segments of dough encased in cardboard cans.
- In beaten biscuits, the dough is beaten (for about 30-45 minutes) either against a hard object or with a mallet or any heavy object to give a classic texture which is both crisp and chewy.
- Traditional recipes for beaten biscuits do not include any powder (or leavening agents) but uses the beating to incorporate air and develop the gluten
- Traditionally served with ham and mustard.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
- Flour shortages during the civil war led to combining pure white wheat flour with starchy sweet potatoes to make sweet potato biscuits.
- The sweet potatoes add natural sugars to the biscuits dough and also maintain the fluffiness of the biscuit.
- They taste great when eaten warm with a dab of butter.
Benne Seed Biscuits
- These are usually prepared by toasting the seed of the benne seed plant and incorporating them into the dough.
- Alternatively, the seeds are pounded into powder before being added to the flour.
- Skillet biscuits are more about a cooking technique than a particular recipe.
- It is made by cooking biscuits close together with their bodies touching in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop.
- This cooking technique of blocking the lateral expansion of their neighbors causes them to rise higher.
- Meanwhile, the skillet while giving the biscuits crispy and buttery edges also keeps their interiors fresh and soft.
- It’s a good food for hot days.
- A scone is a small quick bread made from wheat, barley or oatmeal usually with baking powders as a leavening agent.
- American-style scones’ basics are flour, butter, sugar, egg and a riser.
- They often have fillings like nuts, blueberries, strawberries,
- Most fillings are spices like cinnamon and poppy seeds.
- Eggs can be added for flavor and vibrant coloring, but usually, results in a slightly cakey texture.
- They are often baked to a dry and soft-of crumbly texture with a slightly crusty brown top.
- They are typically large and rectangular.
- American-style mass produced scones tend to be doughier than the homemade ones.
Cooking Tip: Biscuits along with cornbread and soda bread are called quickbread because you use baking powder instead of yeast to make them.
Baking Powder Biscuits
- Also called plain biscuits or buttermilk
- Related to the scones, though not as sweet.
- In making this, you use as little liquid as possible – just enough to allow the dough form a ball as too much liquid toughens the biscuits.
- Rolled biscuits are a very popular baking powder biscuit.
- During baking, it rises to about twice its original height with its interior being light, fluffy and tender, and the crust – a crisp, even golden brown.
- Well-prepared rolled biscuits have a flat top with straight sides.
- Horizontal circles around the sides indicate flakiness.
- Its soft texture not only makes it an apt sponge for sausage gravy but also a vehicle for juicy strawberry shortcake.
- These are rolled out, folded and aptly laminated to give e a structure of alternating layers of dough and fat.
- These folds serve to create the biscuit’s flaky and peel-able layers.
- They usually have a flat top and are cut out using a round cookie cutter (but can also be cut into squares).
- It takes about 25 minutes for a minimally stacked pantry to be prepared.
- The preparation is done by cutting cold butter into the dry product: flour, baking powder, salt and the buttermilk.
- The result is an irregular-shaped (amorphous) crusty and tender interior.
Angel / Cowboy Biscuits
- It’s also called ‘combination biscuit’ because it uses both baking powder and yeast to create fluffy, buttery buns.
- Though tender-textured like a biscuit, it has a spring, bread-like bite.
Cooking Tip: For bread-making beginning cooks, combination biscuits are a perfect place to begin as using the combination of leavening agents makes the recipe almost fail-proof.
- Cream biscuits are simply produced by whisking flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together.
- Gently stir in a full-flat heavy cream to avoid gluten formation.
Different Types Of Biscuits
- It’s a biscuit made by dropping baking powder biscuits from a spoon into a pan for baking.
- Addition of extra liquid to the dough changes its texture to look like stiff pancake batter such that small spoonfuls can be dropped into the baking sheet hence the name – “drop biscuits.”
- Some drop biscuits because of their large size and rough exterior texture are at times called ‘cat head’ biscuits.
- Rolled biscuits differ from drop biscuits in that the dough is rolled out flat and cut into rounds.
- When baked, the round shapes expand into flaky, layered cylinders.
Angel /Cowboy Biscuits
- Angel biscuits are a biscuit made from fine (soft) flour and owes its tender, light and texture and airiness to three leavenings: yeast, baking powder, and baking soda.
- It is the yeast that also gives it its nice
- They are also called ‘brides ‘
- It’s a single-serving quickbread usually made of wheat, barley or oatmeal with baking powder (not yeast) as a leavening agent and baked in sheet pans.
- It’s often sweetened and glazed with egg wash.
- The American-style scones usually possess a higher ratio of fat to flour than British scones which are more buttery with some add-ins like dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate.
- Shortcakes are a sweet biscuit that is topped with fruits (usually strawberries), juice-based syrup and cream.
Baking Tips For Biscuits
The backing is a science. Everything from the slightest changes in ingredients to cooking temperatures, time, etc. can either make or mar your recipe. To forestall any ugly occurrence while ensuring that your biscuits turn out perfect, observe these seemingly simple tips:
Make Out Enough Time
- Be sure to give your baking the time it requires – never rush the process because a few minutes can make a whole lot of difference.
- Undertake the baking only when you have created enough time for it.
Study Your Recipe
- Carefully study the recipe in detail to ensure that all ingredients you need are both right and ready before commencing your baking.
Pre-Heat Your Oven
- Turn your oven to preheat while you are putting the ingredients together being mindful to pre-heat newer ovens for about 14 minutes and older ones for 20 minutes. Preheating allows enough time for the center of the oven to heat thereby letting the biscuits bake evenly.
Weigh Ingredient Correctly
- Use a kitchen scale to get your weights right as incorrectly-weighed ingredients can make your baking attempts disastrous.
- Measuring implements such as cups, spoons, should be used.
Use The Right Equipment
- Your recipe determines the type of equipment use – bakeware molds, pastry molds, silicone spatula are a few that you will need.
Room Temperature Is Key
- If your recipe demands that ingredients such as butter, milk, be used at room temperature, strictly adhere to it.
- You may let the ingredients stand on the counter for a while to come to room temperature.
Begin With Easy Recipes
- It is advisable to start off with easy recipes and gradually delve into the more complex ones when you are more confident that you’ve gotten a good hang on baking.
Use An Oven Thermometer
- An oven thermometer should be kept in the oven to be exact with the temperature as you move on because there’s always the possibility of the oven temperature going off especially if the oven is an aged
Chill Your Biscuit Dough
- If certain firmness is needed for your biscuit dough especially chilling, be sure to do so before using as this not only enhances the flavor but also turns out solid and fluffy biscuits.
Use A Pastry Bag
- Use a pastry bag, a scoop, or cookie press to make even, drop cookies as it helps keep your biscuits similar in size, shape, and texture.
- Using a special biscuit drop-scoop can also help make your end product uniform in size and shape.
Position The Cookie Sheets
- If baking just a sheet of cookie, ensure that you put the oven rack in the center position.
- If you are planning to bake more than one sheet of cookies at a time, the cookies closest to the heat source brown faster. Therefore, rotate the cookie sheets during baking to avoid uneven browning / over-browning.
Keep Your Oven Doors Closed
- Avoid a situation where you continually open and close the oven door this can ruin your biscuits.
Test For Doneness
- In testing for doneness, use a combination of the toothpick method and checking the biscuits color.
- You may also carefully touch the biscuits’ tops while pressing down slightly – if they pop back, then they are done.
Cool Your Biscuits Before Stacking
- Let the biscuits cool awhile on the baking sheet before placing them on cooling racks ensuring that they are not close together to avoid sticking
- Stack them on each other only when they’ve cooled completely.0something like saran wrap, double- wrap the cooking dough and put in a zippered bag.
- Mark the container to indicate the recipe type and date of production.
- Use within the recommended storage time for best flavor and texture.
Cooking Tip: Most dough and cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to 6weeks.
Clean Utensils With Warm Water
- Use warm (not hot) water to clean the utensils and mixing bowls after baking since (if) your dough contains flour as hot water causes the flour to clump and harden thereby making utensils harder to clean.