Biscuits are a staple in any southern kitchen, and although they are incredibly easy to make, there's a huge margin for error. I have been served dry biscuits, salty biscuits, hard biscuits, and pasty biscuits. Luckily for me, my grandma taught me a long time ago how to make the perfect biscuit. It's easy to be taught what to do, but it's even more important to know what not to do. (Opening up a can of Pillsbury and throwing them on a pan should make this list, but that's a given.)
If you want tall, flaky biscuits that melt in your mouth, avoid the following five mistakes, and use my own personal recipe which can be found HERE.
Mistake #1: Not chilling the ingredients
Biscuit dough is similar to pastry dough in the sense that they both get their layers from a type of fat suspended in the flour. Many people make biscuits with vegetable shortening, lard, or coconut oil. But, I'm here to tell you, there is no way to make proper biscuits unless you are using butter. In fact, every nasty biscuit I have ever had in my life was made with a fat other than butter.
The butter that you use needs to be ice cold in order to get proper flaky layers. Even the flour and butter milk needs to be chilled to produce a satisfactory result. A little tip here is to place your flour in a metal bowl and put it in the freezer overnight. This will make sure it is good and cold for the next day. Starting with a chilled metal bowl also helps keep the fat from melting while you're making the dough.
Mistake #2: Mixing the dough with your hands
The heat from your hands will melt the butter in the dough, causing your biscuits to fall flat. Only use a pastry cutter when incorporating the butter into the flour to prevent it from melting. I personally use and recommend this brand.
Mistake #3: Overworking the dough
Never use a stand mixer or food processor to mix your biscuit dough, as this will make it incredibly tough. Only mix the dough until the ingredients just come together, using a gentle touch. Think of biscuits as a delicate pastry, and not bread, and you'll do just fine.
Mistake #4: Using a dull biscuit cutter
If you want your biscuits to rise up tall, you need to use a sharp biscuit cutter. Also, use the proper cutting movements. You want to press the cutter into the dough in a straight, downward motion. DO NOT twist the cutter. Using a dull cutter or moving it in a twisting motion will actually seal the edges of the dough together, and will keep your biscuits from rising. If you're looking for a set of sharp cutters, I recommend THESE. They have nice handles and are extra tall, allowing you to cut really thick dough.
Mistake #5: Ignoring the tops
Once you have your biscuit dough cut and ready to go into the oven, you want to brush the tops with a 50-50 mixture of whole buttermilk and melted butter. Using only melted butter will give your biscuits a nice golden hue, but mixing in buttermilk will give them a nice crunchy coating. Much better than just plain butter.
Making biscuits is much easier than you may think. Once you've had true southern biscuits made from scratch, you won't be able to stomach the canned variety ever again.
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