It seems in the food blogosphere there are a few “baseline” recipes that every writer must have. The number one of these recipes is for a “perfect” whole roasted chicken. That is a rabbit hole for another post. Probably the number two “baseline” recipe is for a good, tender biscuit that is easy to make. Well, after some work, we are ready to submit our “perfect” biscuit recipe.
Perfect? Sure. These biscuits are easy to make, taste great, have a light, tender texture and even have a little science behind them. We did test a number of recipes, but in the end we went with a recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.
If you are not familiar with King Arthur Flour, you should be. Based in Vermont, King Arthur Flour provides some of the best baking products in the country. While Chris Kimball and the Cooks Illustrated crew all talk bout their “Vermont-ness” (all while acting like they run a foodie hedge fund) the folks at King Arthur actually walk the walk and deliver simple, reliable recipes and techniques that make you a better baker.
King Arthur recipes have all the testing, science and nutritional notes of Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen recipes, but without the blather, needless steps and extra dishes. In this case, their biscuit recipe gets right to the point with some basics for a nice flaky biscuit. You need to lightly knead the dough to avoid developing gluten, which toughens the dough (and biscuit). And you need to chill the dough in the freezer for a tender, flakier biscuit. Now many recipes will make you go crazy with grating frozen butter or cutting the fat with knives to keep the fat cold. But King Arthur uses science and common sense (sadly a rare ingredient in many recipes) and simply has you make the dough and then chill it to solidify the fat. So the only “special” ingredient in this recipe is some extra time.
The end result is biscuit dough that is quick to assemble and requires minimal handling. You simply mix the dry ingredients. We use low-protein pasty flour for extra tenderness, but all-purpose flour will also work just fine. Then add butter and shortening into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or your fingers (you can use a food processor through this step). The dough should now look like uneven crumbs, you do not want an even texture.
As for the wet ingredients, you whisk an egg into some cream (you can use milk or half and half, but cream will yield a more tender biscuit) and then add them to the dry ingredients. Now the key is to stir just until the mixture is combined. Do not stir too much.
To finish the dough, you lightly knead it on a floured surface until it comes together and then shape it in a 6 x 6 inch square. The dough will be about 3/4 inch thick. Now you wrap it in plastic and place it in the freezer for 1 hour. Have a coffee, relax and then preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
It is also easy to finish the biscuits. Firstly you simply grease a baking sheet (or line with parchment or a silicone mat). Then you take the dough from the freezer and place on a cutting board. And then using your sharpest knife, you cut the dough into 9 2×2 squares. (Why squares? Well this limits the amount of times you handle the dough. If you cut circles you will need to reshape the dough to shape all of the biscuits. This adds extra handling and heat to the dough- exactly what you are trying to avoid.) You can mark the dough with the knife before you cut to be sure of the size of the biscuits. As for the knife, it must be sharp to keep from crushing the edges of the dough and limiting your rise (this is true for all biscuits, btw- be careful what you cut with). Once cut, add the biscuits, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet.
At this point we take the extra step of creating an egg wash and brushing it on top of the biscuits. This yields a nice, golden color to the top of the biscuits, but is an optional step. Finally you place the biscuits into the oven for 16 minutes (or until a light golden brown). Once done, you remove the biscuits from the oven and serve.
As we used pastry flour and cream, the biscuits are super-flaky and are best served with butter, jam or honey. If you want to make biscuit sandwiches with eggs, cheese bacon and/or sausage, you may want to use all-purpose flour, as the biscuit will be a bit more sturdy. Either way, these are biscuits that you will enjoy. They will be good for a day or two, but they will not last that long.
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)
Notes Before You Start:
- Pastry flour has less protein than all-purpose flour. Low-protein flours develop less gluten and have a more tender texture. Pastry flour is available in most supermarkets.
- This recipe will still be very tender with all-purpose flour. But we do heavily suggest you use cream as the dairy in the recipe if using all-purpose flour.
- You can use a food processor in steps 1 and 2.
What You Get: A light, tender biscuit that is easy to make and uses minimal dishes.
What You Need: No special ingredients or tools required.
How Long? Making the dough takes 5-10 minutes. Chlling the dough takes one hour. Baking takes 16 minutes. Expect that you can have biscuits ready to eat in just over 90 minutes.
- 2 cups (8 and ½ oz.) unbleached pastry (or all-purpose) flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 and ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz. or ½ stick) cold butter
- ¼ cup (4 oz.) cold shortening
- ½ cup (4.oz) heavy cream
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg for egg wash (optional)
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl add the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Whisk to combine.
- Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and then add to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or fingers, combine the butter and shortening with the dry ingredients. When the mixture is combined but has uneven, large and small crumbs, it is done. Don’t over-mix.
- Measure the cream into a measuring cup and then add 1 large egg. Whisk until smooth and fully combined.
- Add cream and egg mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined and the moisture is evenly distributed.
- Dump the dough onto a floured surface. Lightly knead the dough until it just holds together and then form into a 6 x 6 inch square. Wrap in plastic and place into the freezer for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line the sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
- After 1 hour, remove the biscuit dough from the freezer, unwrap it and place it on a cutting surface.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough into 9 2 x 2 inch squares. Place the biscuits, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet. (If using egg wash, whisk one egg in a small bowl until smooth. Lightly brush egg onto the top of each biscuit.)
- Place in the oven and cook for 16 minutes or until a light golden brown.
- Remove from oven and serve.