Everything I Know About Biscuits is Wrong

So when you neglect your hobby for an extended period of time, you may find when you return to it that things are not quite as you left them. Which is how today's blog post started when none of the cameras I own had a charged battery. I had to go with my little Nikon CoolPix because I could quickly replace its disposable batteries and get things up and running. Which means all of the innovation is in the baking and not in the photography. 

What got me motivated to get back into the swing of things was my recent purchase of Nick Malgieri's Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking. My go-to recipe for the last 20 or so years has been from the 1978 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook, and it has served me well throughout my marriage. But when I read through Malgieri's baking powder biscuit recipe, I came to the conclusion that quite possibly everything I know about biscuits is wrong.

I've been a strong proponent of a sturdy pastry cutter and a good rolling pin for perfect biscuits, adhering to the roll and fold technique to work the dough. Malgieri provides a technique that is both easier and results in a superior end product. He says use that food processor and then finish working the dough by hand like you would for sweet pastry dough.

This means I got to use the mighty Cuisinart, which is always enjoyable.

The recipe is about what you would expect:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 sticks of cold butter, cut into 12 pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk

Plus I added 5 tablespoons buttermilk powder (1 for each 1/4 cup milk) and the additional 1/2 teaspoon baking soda he recommends for buttermilk biscuits.

Per his instructions, I pulsed the dry ingredients in my food processor just to blend. I then added my cut butter and pulsed a few more times. Last, I added the milk and pulsed until I had a clump of dough.

The dough came out smooth and elastic with the appropriate clumps of butter that help make those biscuits flaky. I'm sold on the food processor and may never use a pastry cutter again.

And, even though I was skeptical, I left the rolling pin in the cupboard and worked my dough by hand. With pinches of flour on my work surface instead of my usual careless handful. I quickly shaped my dough into the 6-inch square and folded it into thirds like a letter and then folded that in half. I pressed the dough down into that 6-inch square again and was ready to cut.

And, for probably the first time, I pressed my cutter straight down into the dough and did not twist it to get it back out - not even a jiggle. I got beautiful cut biscuits that did not stick to the cutter or the board. My theory is that by using the food processor to form the dough and then quickly working it by hand, the butter gets less opportunity to soften and spread out. Less flour is needed to prevent sicking, and you get a more flavorful biscuit.

The recipe yield is 12 biscuits, but I used the biggest thing I could find and got 9 jumbos.