Biscuits. Just reading the word brings up thoughts of flaky, tender biscuits still warm from the oven topped with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
I hear from readers quite often who have struggled to make flaky pastries to their liking. Most often, the recipes they have been disappointed by are pie crust and biscuits. They have tried to no avail to produce the flaky, tender pastries that they dream of.
When it comes to flaky pastries, less is more. Working the dough as little as possible is the key to creating a flaky texture. Too much stretching and working the dough strengthens the gluten structure of the flour and creates a stretchy, strong dough like pizza crust instead of the flaky, tender dough for biscuits or pie.
Any overworking makes a flaky biscuit completely impossible to achieve. When biscuits are cut into traditional circles using a cutter, the scraps are reshaped to create additional biscuits. That seemingly insignificant amount of handling completely changes the texture of those secondary biscuits. For that reason, I simply cut my rectangle of biscuit dough into square or rectangles rather than using a round cutter. Doing so ensures that each biscuit is worked only once, that no additional shaping is necessary, and that every biscuit is as light and fluffy as the others.
In order to create that delicious, flaky texture, care must be taken to build layers of fat suspended in the dough. When that layered dough hits the hot oven, the fat begins the melt and moisture is released, creating small pockets of air and the light, flaky texture that makes for an amazing biscuit with a pillowy texture.
If you live above the Mason-Dixon line like I do, your brand of All-purpose flour may also be conspiring against you. Delicious biscuits are a staple in the South where the All-purpose flour is traditionally milled from soft winter wheat. White Lily brand is known for its lower protein content, soft texture, and ability to create delicious, tender biscuits and pastries. Soft winter wheat has a low protein content around 8 – 9% which helps to make a flaky biscuit.
Here in New England, hard winter wheat is commonly milled into the brands of All-purpose flour available at our grocery stores. The hard winter wheat creates a flour that has a higher protein content between 10 and 12% and also contains more gluten. Higher protein and more gluten are great for bread doughs and pizza crust, but make the prospect of creating a light and flaky biscuit a struggle.
While I had learned the technique necessary for making an amazing biscuit, the higher protein content of my flour wasn’t helping matters. In the past, I have milled my own flour for biscuits with good results. Yet, the texture still wasn’t quite what I was aiming for.
After reading scores of articles about the protein content and gluten properties of different types of flour, I decided to try an experiment. I substituted cornstarch for ½ cup of the All-purpose flour called for in my biscuit recipe. I know from my experience creating a homemade cake flour substitute that this combination works very well to create a light, airy cake batter. So, it made sense that this combination might also make a delicious biscuit.
The dough came together beautifully. It was easy to work with and the raw biscuits looked very promising when I placed them in the oven. I couldn’t wait to take a bite.
Thanks to a decreased protein content and carefully folding the dough to increase the layers in the dough, these biscuits are exactly what I was dreaming of. They’re light, flaky, and tender. They come together easily and are always a welcome sight at our farmhouse table. We might live well above the Mason-Dixon line, but we enjoy biscuits that taste like a Southern dream. Now that you know the secret to making perfect flaky biscuits, I hope that you will too!
- 1 ½ cups All-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons butter, grated
- 2 Tablespoons lard
- ½ cup buttermilk, chilled
- 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the grated butter and lard. Gently work the fats into the dry ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender. Remember that less is more and take care not to overwork the dough. The dough should include small globules of fat, so stop when tiny pieces of lard and butter remain.
- Add the cold buttermilk and gently combine. The dough should be shaggy and quite wet. If it seems too dry, simply add a Tablespoon or two of buttermilk. Turn the shaggy dough out on to a well-floured surface. Gently gather the dough together into a square shape taking care not to stretch or compress it more than necessary. If needed, sprinkle the surface with a bit of flour to make it easier to work with. Grab two opposite ends of the rectangle and fold them towards the center, stacking the ends on top of each other. Turn the dough and repeat the folding process.
- Gently shape the dough with as little working as possible into a rectangle before cutting into 6 to 8 biscuits. Carefully move each biscuit to the prepared baking sheet. I like to place my biscuits next to each other as it creates a very moist and soft textured biscuit. Brush the tops and exposed sides of the biscuits with melted butter before placing the baking sheet in the hot oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the tops are lightly browned and dry. Remove the biscuits from the oven and allow to cool slightly before separating and serving.