Basic Southern Biscuits | Nik Snacks ~ Nik Snacks

Bite it and write it. That's what I do.


On 11:54 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , ,    22 comments
One of the first things I ever learned how to make was a biscuit (well, I'm sure there were at least eight of them, but you know what I mean). My grandmother let me peer over the counter as she sifted flour, cut up butter, and rolled her way across the counter.

I got to pat dough.

I got to play with yeast (cake and granulated).

I got to use real butter, margarine, and trans fat-free buttery spreads.

One time and one time only did we use Crisco. It was butter flavored and it could have been sawdust-flavored for all we cared. It was gross. Yuck.

I have a hard time referring to cookies as digestive biscuits because I've only known biscuits to be ethereal bundles of flaky, fluffy, luxurious joy.

Every night Grandma made dinner with a meat, two vegetables, and a bread. 90% of the time it was biscuits. It was a special treat to get Jiffy cornbread, topped with butter, studded with corn and diced jalapenos, or swirled with fresh herbs. But the biscuit ... Oh! The biscuit. High upon its pedestal, to this day it stands high above the rest.

When it comes to baking, it's an exact science. That's why many cooks say they don't or can't bake. Honestly, it takes skill, dedication, and pure concentration to measure, weigh, and calculate ingredients. When you cook, you can literally throw anything in a pan, turn on the heat, stir it, and it's done. It's easy to master the science of coagulating and denaturing of proteins or the breaking down of cellulose.

The Chop Shop of Biscuit Making

Flour: Unbleached all-purpose flour is the trademark of American baked goods.

Whole-wheat flour will make us all heart healthy, but it will also make your biscuits heavy and dense. I'd rather be light and fluffy. Sorry. LOL. The bran in the whole wheat flour cuts the gluten strands and makes it short (the premise behind shortbreads and shortcakes), causing the bread to be dense.

The best combination of flour for biscuits is one part all-purpose and one part cake flour. Cake flour is soft and has a lower gluten protein percentage. It clumps in your hand when you squeeze it. Swans Down is my favorite. To make your own: Add 2 Tbsp cornstarch to 1 cup all-purpose flour. It's a reasonable facsimile, but only do it if you must must must.

Self-rising flour is one of the most wonderful inventions ever. In any self-respecting Southern woman's cabinet, there are two bags of flour: regular all-purpose and self-rising all-purpose. You never know when you'll need one or the other. Preferred brands include: Gold Medal, Martha White, and White Lily.

I'm going to be honest, my grandma really didn't like having huge bags of flour with little white girls on it, so we usually had Gold Medal.

Self-rising flour sometimes tastes salty, so that's when adding your own baking powder and baking soda comes into play.

Leavening: This is what separates the women from the girls. It's what makes the biscuits rise and get fluffy. Whichever leavening agent you use, it works like this: it reacts with the moisture, heat and acidity in the dough to produce carbon dioxide--which then becomes trapped as bubbles within the dough. Yeast, buttermilk, sour cream, baking soda, and baking powder all all acceptable agents. Using them correctly is key.
If using self-rising flour, skip this step. The baking soda and powder are already included.
Yeast is a beast. It's living, real, and unkind in foreign lands. Sugar feeds it. Salt kills it. Potato starch nourishes it. Heat inhibits it. One wrong move, and it's over. Yeast is why I don't bake bread. It makes me want to cry. I like kids, but I don't want to babysit any yeast.
Buttermilk is simply soured milk full of cultured bacteria. It gives biscuits a slight tang in taste. To make your own, add 2 Tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Let sit for 10 minutes e voila, you have soured milk. It is NOT the same as buttermilk, but it will do in a pinch.

For baking powder, I prefer Clabber Girl. There is a lip on the inside that you can scrape your measuring spoon against to level your powder. Ingenious!

Fat: Cutting the fat means something entirely different when it comes to biscuits. As we all know, fat equals flavor. My preferred fat is ice cold cubes of salted butter. Shortening (Crisco), bacon fat, margarine all can be used. Cooks will swear by shortening, but I don't like to use it because it changes the mouthfeel of the biscuits to something more akin to plastic than biscuit. I've used oil in a pinch, but butter makes it better. For sure.

The less the dough is worked, the more tender the biscuits will be. Knead the dough just until it comes together in a ball. Gently rework the scraps and use those, too. It's hard times right now--waste not, want not.

Placing the biscuits close together helps them rise and stay fluffy. Placing them apart makes them crustier.

To cut biscuits, a biscuit cutter isn't needed. If you have one, that's great, but the floured rim of a drinking glass, shot glass, or the top of a Mason jar will do. Use a knife if you want square or diamond shaped biscuits.

Stacked, crusty biscuits waiting to be buttered.

Buttermilk Biscuits Yield 12 to 16 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp butter
1 cup buttermilk

Basic Biscuits Yield 12 to 16 biscuits

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp butter
1 cup milk

(Follow instructions for either recipe)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Sift dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut butter with your fingers, fork, or pastry cutter until the mixture looks like course crumbs. Pour in the milk and stir it with a fork until the ingredients are moistened. Lightly flour the counter or another work surface and turn out the dough. Pat into a circle between 1/2 and 3/4 inches thick. Cut biscuits into desired shapes. Rework scraps and cut them into shapes as well. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

THIS is why I'm glad to be Southern. 
Thank you, Jesus, for small miracles.

*NOTE: This post was updated and refreshed in 2020. But biscuit-making has been the same since forever, so there's that...


Gena said...

For biscuits, I either go with Clabber girl or buttermilk, depending on whether I feel like running to the store. I'm also all about using good old butter rather than Crisco. The taste and texture with real butter is so much better that it's really worth it!

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

I like biscuits, yum. Great article Nikki. You rock.

Tina Butler said...

Those biscuits look great. Umm all that bacon and egg yummo. The sweet potato biscuits sound good. I saw paula deen make them on her show and my 5 year old wants me to make them LOL. Great blog.

Anonymous said...

WOW--throw me a biscuit. My mom made them every night too!! what memories--thanks

Ann (N&R)

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Gena: Yeah, I don't understand the lure of Crisco. I never have.

Teresa: Thanks, my friend!

Tina: You definitely should make some for your little one. My recipe is too labor-intensive for me to do often, but they taste pretty good.

Ann: Hey! :) 'm glad to know you're a biscuit eater, too!

Darius T. Williams said...

Too funny. But I just can't believe I've found someone who likes food as much as I do.

The almighty biscuit - YES!

But I gotta tell you. I'm one of those people that really doesn't bake. I can't. I try and I try and it doesn't work. BUT, I'm having a party this weekend - well two of them. And I'm thinking I'm going to bake something to prove to my friends that I can do it. Cookies maybe? Ohhh, what about a cake? I can bake a cake, right? It's easy - something lemony and creamy. Oh, I got it - a lemon cream cake. Does that exist? I wish it was like cooking cuz I could make that up in my head real fast and it'd be good.

Speaking of making things up - how about I made up a mongolian beef recipe on the fly at home and it was GOOD!

Visit my blog - I need your advice. I was actually gonna e-mail you because I needed some ideas. But look at the menu choices and critique them for me. I like to have a good balance of sweet, salty, and spicy. I think I've done pretty good - but your seal of approval would be nice.

kat said...

I love this post, its so informative! I'm a big fan of biscuits myself, especially with butter & honey, but don't ever make them

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Darius: If you want to delve into baking, I'd suggest cookies. They're a little more forgiving than cake. After a few batches of cookies, I'd try cake. And yeah, lemon creme cake with ribons of cream cheese frosting through it...of course it exists!

Kat: With that wonderful bread book you have, I wouldn't make biscuits often either. LOL

Southern Plate said...

Clabber Girl! White Lily! Jiffy Mix!!!
I felt like I was home reading this!
(okay I am home, technically, but I was working on a point there!).

My mom used to keep a jiffy cake mix and a jiffy chocolate icing mix on hand too. They were so very cheap and she would often whip up a one layer cake last minute to round out supper.
Sounds like we had similar cooks. Meat, two veggies (at least), bread, dessert!
Loving your blog!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I LOVE biscuits. I'm thinking I should make some again soon. I don't do them that often because I know I'll eat the whole batch in no time at all. (Hmmm...maybe I should wait until my vacation is over before I make them again.)

It's funny, I was drawn to baking before I learned to cook because it's an exact science. YOu just followed the recipe, stuck to the formula. If you could measure, you could bake. Cooking real food intimidated me more because of the many variables involved.

glamah16 said...

I love a good Buttermilk biscuit.Now you make me want to bake some.

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Southern plate: I love your blog, too! I feel like I'm at home (or at least at my mom's house) when I read yours LOL

I don't think we ever had Jiffy cake mix in our cabinet. But Jiffy at 33 cents a box, oh yes...we did!

Rachel: I'm a pretty good baker. Well, if it doesn't turn out like I want, I know why. I usually add too much baking soda or powder and my crumb is too loose. But I love love baking. Cooking is just something I do well.

Courtney: Go ahead! Make some! I won't tell!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your blog! It is a delight to read!!!! Can I add you to my blogroll?

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Katie: Yeah! Add me! Love it!

Angie said...

Gee, this post was so good that I'm here wanting biscuits at 10:50PM! Ahhh! I wish!

Unknown said...

these bring back such memories for me of the 'biscuits' my great-aunt made...only here in ireland she called them 'cakes'...she made such great potato cakes and they were so good with loads of butter on them...yummy! i must try and make some again.

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Sinead: I'm so happy that I could bring back a happy memory for you! Every time I make biscuits (which is often), I have happy memories, too.

MrOrph said...

Time to make the biscuits!

I love biscuits, definitely with an egg, cheese, and some BACON!!!!

Thistlemoon said...

This is an awesome post Nikki! I love this dedication you have to the perfect biscuit - someone has GOT to do it, and I think you are the lady. That cracked me up about the White Lily flour. I always felt the name had weird connotations too - and I am white, so it must be bad! LOL! Crisco is some nasty stuff.

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Don: WHY Why why are they so good?! Biscuitville, for real.

Jenn: Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am still wary of those flours even though I know there's nothing wrong with them. I know there's a trans-fat free Crisco now, but I have not and will not use it. It's scary.

cindy* said...

breakfast biscut sandwiches=good morning love. seriously, and making it look good on a cell phone cam is a pretty amazing feat.

Alicia Foodycat said...

OK, I am 12 minutes away from my first batch of biscuits!