Biscuits: that Southern quick bread is the foundation for innumerable meals. These melt-in-your-mouth treats are especially popular in Houston and all of Texas because of the influences of Southern cooking on our food. While you can go out to eat at just about any restaurant that serves Southern or American cuisine and get a plate of scratch-made biscuits, these breads don't appear on many home tables unless they came from a can.
Baking biscuits requires few ingredients and less time and effort than making a loaf of bread, so why don't more people bake their own biscuits? Likely the answer is because they had had one too many hockey-puck breads from some well-meaning relative's or friend's home cooked meal and fear replicating that same experience. If you know what makes biscuits light and fluffy, you never have to worry about dense, hard tack coming out of your oven.
Homemade biscuits were originally hard as rocks because they were made without leavening unless they were leavened with a sponge made with wild yeast like sourdough biscuits. According to What's Cooking America, in 1843, baking powder was introduced by chemist Alfred Bird, who wanted to create something his wife could leaven bread with because she was allergic to yeast. Baking powder includes an acid to react with the baking soda base in the mixture when water is added. Double-acting baking powder also reacts when heated. The reaction produces carbon dioxide gas, as any student who has created a baking soda and vinegar volcano knows.
When baking biscuits, you don't have to use an acid like buttermilk if your recipe calls for baking powder, but you do need the acid if the recipe only calls for baking soda. For successful biscuits, don't interchange these ingredients.
Here are other ways to succeed with your biscuits:
- Use the flour required in the recipe, and do not substitute bread flour, which will create dense, chewy biscuits – think pizza crust levels of chewiness.
- Sift the ingredients for a lighter mixture.
- Don't over mix the dough or knead it excessively. The dough should be a soft and not elastic.
- Don't twist your biscuit cutter. Twisting the cutter compresses the layers in the biscuits, preventing them from being light and fluffy. Just press straight down with the cutter or make drop biscuits – like Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay biscuits.
If you're ready to bake better biscuits, try some of these sweet and savory recipes below and check out the video for another great biscuit variation to try:
Top Secret Restaurant Recipes: Red Lobster's Cheddar Biscuits (Published on ABC News)