Updated with a new photograph, expanded information, recipe links and shopping options on November 16, 2015
The biscuit method is a method for making quick breads such as scones and, well, biscuits. That's American biscuits, not cookie-biscuits, if you're visiting from across the Big Blue Ocean.
The biscuit method is one of the only mixing methods that does not require you to have all of your ingredients at room temperature. Your fats and liquids should be cold for the biscuit method. The colder, the better. Why? Well, the whole point of the biscuit method is to keep discrete little pieces of fat dispersed throughout your dough. That way, when they melt in the oven, the steam the little pieces creates assists in with the rise. Also, you get all of these wee little buttery pockets. I love me some biscuits.
How to Perform The Biscuit Method
So, here's how it goes.
- Mix all your dry ingredients together with a whisk: flour, baking powder and/or baking soda, salt, sugar, dry spices, etc.
- Cut your very cold fat into about 1/2 inch chunks (if you're using shortening, or part shortening, put that stuff in the freezer. I vote all butter, personally, for flavor and for no trans fats, but do what you want).
- Toss the butter/shortening with the dry ingredients.
- Using your fingers, break up the butter/shortening, rubbing it into the flour. When you're done, the pieces should be anywhere from the size of grits to the size of peas. Nothing too much bigger than a pea. If your hands are warm, throw everybody into the fridge to firm up.
- Pour in your liquid (milk/cream/half and half/buttermilk--whatever the recipe calls for). Toss together with the dry. Don't mix viciously.
- Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a square about 1/2" thick.
- Cut into squares (no waste) or circles. (You can re-roll the scraps, but those biscuits will be tougher. I vote squares).
- Brush with cream/butter/egg wash. Bake at about 400 degrees, F, until risen and golden brown and lovely.
I will now take your questions. Yes? You in the back. "Why can't I mix viciously. I need to get out my aggression."
Me: If you need to take out your aggression on something, make some bread or take a kick boxing class. You want to handle your dough gently once the liquid is in there. Biscuits are supposed to be tender, and a bunch of mixing will just activate the gluten in the flour and you'll end up with chewy biscuits.
Yes, sir. You there, in the brown sweater. "Can I use my stand mixer or food processor?"
Me: I would stay away from the food processor because it can generate a bunch of heat, and you don't want your butter to melt. You can use a mixer as long as you use the paddle attachment and stop and check the consistency and the size of your butter pieces every 30 seconds or so. You don't want to end up with paste. Once you get the liquid in there, I would take the bowl off the mixer and fold the liquid in with a spatula. You don't want to develop that gluten."
That's enough for today. Thank you all for coming.
PS The Biscuit Method is also the method most often used for making pie crust. Any time you're cutting pieces of fat into smaller pieces of fat mixed into flour and adding a little bit of liquid, you can bet your biscuit you're using The Biscuit Method.
Biscuits and other Biscuit-like items on Ye Olde Blogge that Utilize The Biscuit Method for Mixing
Here are some biscuit and pie crust recipes you might want to try out. Take a look in the instruction section of all the recipes. I'm sure you'll be able to recognize the basic method.
- All Butter Angel Biscuits
- High-Rise Flaky Cheddar Bay Biscuits
- Spicy Cheese Biscuits
- Plum Cobbler
- Mother Leavee's Plum Kuchen
Pie Crust Recipes on Ye Olde Blogge that Utilize The Biscuit Method for Mixing
- Basic Pate Brisee (and a primer on why pie crust shrinks and how to keep that from happening)
- Lazy Baker's Puff Pastry (scroll down past the tart recipe to get to the puff)
Shop the Method
Like most of the basic mixing methods, you don't need a ton of fancy equipment to perform them properly, but here are a few of my recommendations for cookbooks, baking sheets, pie plates, biscuit cutters, etc, you might find useful. These are affiliate links. Thank you for helping me keep the lights on. I appreciate the support.