Biscuits, with a brief explanation of flour


Ah, biscuits, the holy grail of breakfast. Smothered in jam or sausage gravy they can accompany eggs or play the star of the plate. There are a million recipes and suggestions for how to make them abound. Let’s take a look at some background and the subject of flour.

While the term, biscuit, is derived from a latin word that means to bake twice (that’s a distilled description, you can google a more precise version if you wish or hold tight for a link below that answers all), but in the US we developed something called a baking powder biscuit, which is what many of use think about when hearing the word biscuit. I love the Food Timeline for all sorts of food history information and they don’t disappoint when it comes to biscuits.

Southern biscuits are are the standard although even that comes with variations. This write up from Southern Reader is a fabulous read about the subject. When it comes to light, fluffy biscuits there is one subject you cannot avoid and that is flour. Flour from the southern part of the US is a soft wheat flour, White Lily being the favorite. Soft wheat has a lower gluten content and is what both cake and pastry flour are made from. Then you get into self-rising flours, Martha White seems to be the preferred southern variety if you’re going that route. Now, if you really want to geek out about flour, visit Anson Mills, they are a fascinating company.

In the northern part of the US we typically have hard winter wheat, which is what all-purpose and bread flours are made from. You can get into white and whole-wheat flour on this path as well, then whole wheat pastry flour and so on. Whole wheat flour uses the whole wheat kernel, as opposed to white flour which has had the bran and germ removed. Interestingly, in Washington state, where I live, we grow a sizable amount of soft wheat. This is probably due to the extensive wheat research going on in our state thanks to Steve Jones and his Bread Lab in Skagit County.

Now that I’ve managed to get in a plug for Dr. Jones, we can get back to biscuits. I think of tall soft, fluffy, layered white on the inside and golden on the outside, a little crunch to that golden layer, but mostly a pillowy softness that screams for more butter and maybe some strawberry jam…ahhh. Ok so now that you have that image in your mind we can get down to how we make them a reality.

The most important part of making biscuits is not to over-mix them. Period. There are lots of other things that can vary, but that one NEVER does.

You can make drop biscuits or rolled biscuits–traditionally rolling does not mean get out a rolling pin, you’re going to pat those puppies down with your hands. I’ve worked with chefs that roll out their biscuits, sometimes doing the letter fold you do with laminated doughs, and they turn out lovely, but I tend not to use that method. To be honest I also don’t have a go-to biscuit recipe. I’ve made them so many times I know what the dough should look like and because being in the kitchen often means experimenting to me, I try new recipes all the time. I also blame this proclivity for not being brand loyal to flour. Sometimes I have whole wheat pastry flour, sometimes just ap, and usually buttermilk, but not always, making the variation in recipes a necessity based on what’s on hand. The only sticky wicket I seem to have is adding things into my biscuits. I tried roasting some strawberries last week and adding them to buttermilk biscuits and I broke the cardinal rule of biscuit making, I over mixed. Oh they’re still edible, but not light and fluffy like they usually are, part of the issue was that I was using a frozen bag of last year’s strawberries that I found while cleaning out the freezer in preparation for this summer’s bounty. I will say the roasted strawberry flavor is something spectacular. Once we’re fully in strawberry season I’m totally going to play with that again.

Ok back to biscuits. I had some whole wheat pastry flour kicking around the house that needed to be used so I gave that a whirl using the recipe from A Dash of Soul. I used more pastry flour than her 1:1 ratio, more like 3:1 (I made a triple batch and weighed rather than using a measuring cup so my flour ratio was different), but it didn’t seem to hurt things any. I also went for drop biscuits, probably because I was a little gun shy after last week’s strawberry snafu, but also because the higher ratio of pastry flour made for a wetter dough. I left her flour ratio intact below so you can experiment on your own with the ratio.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes 8 biscuits
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. sugar
  • ¼ t. baking soda
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 6 T. cold butter
  • 1 c. buttermilk (or plain milk combined with a couple teaspoons of vinegar)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda
  3. Cut the butter into flour mixture
  4. Stir in the buttermilk, just until ingredients are combined and there is no more loose flour. DO NOT OVERMIX
  5. At this point you can flour your hands and pat the dough out on a liberally floured surface then use a biscuit cutter or use a portion scoop for drop biscuit.
  6. Line a sheet tray with parchment or a silpat
  7. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the biscuits are a nice golden brown on the top and bottom

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