Light, fluffy buttermilk or quick biscuits take some practice, but you can do it! There's nothing better than a velvety, puffy biscuit, split open with melted butter and honey dripping off of it for breakfast in the morning. But there are a few secrets you need to know before you tackle this recipe for best results.
- Make sure the recipe you are using is a good one. The best proportion of flour to fat is 1/2 cup of fat for every 2 cups of flour. More fat will make softer biscuits - not a big problem; too little fat, however, will result in dry and heavy biscuits.
- The type of flour you use is important. Don't use bread flour unless the recipe calls for it (see Flaky Biscuits), and avoid whole wheat and other whole grain flours. They will make the biscuits tough and heavy. We're going for lightness here.
- The best combination is all-purpose flour (bleached or unbleached doesn't make too much difference, but I still prefer bleached for the lightest result) and cake flour. Cake flour is a soft flour that has less gluten protein. You can find it right next to the other flours in the grocery store. If you can't find cake flour you can 'make your own' by spooning 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into the bottom of a measuring cup, then lightly spooning in all purpose flour to fill the cup. Level it off, then sift using a sieve or a metal sifter. I find that self-rising flour is too salty, and I prefer being able to control the amount and type of leavening I use. It's also very important to measure flour correctly. If you dip the measuring cup into the flour you'll have too much, and the biscuits will be tough and heavy.
- For baking powder, I use Rumford (part of Clabber Girl) and Clabber Girl baking powders, because they contain calcium phosphate instead of sodium aluminum sulfate in other products which tastes bitter.
- When the recipe calls for baking powder and baking soda, make sure to use both! Baking powder, especially the double acting type that rises when it meets liquid and again in the oven, provides the most reliable leavening, and baking soda helps neutralize acid ingredients in the biscuits for the best flavor. Don't worry too much about the chemistry in baking - the products do the work by themselves. I just feel that you will be more confident if you understand a bit about chemical reactions in baking and cooking.
- Fat is essential for the lightest and fluffiest biscuits! Butter adds more flavor, but shortening makes the biscuits more tender because it doesn't contain water or milk solids. And the fat must be cold. Fat forms small pockets throughout the biscuit dough, and as the fat melts in the oven, the CO2 from the leavening agent takes its place so the biscuits rise. If the fat melts or softens before the biscuits bake, the biscuits will be hard and flat because there's no place for the CO2 to go except out of the biscuits!
- Don't work in a hot kitchen. If the dough seems to be getting too soft or warm, place it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. I like to make sure my hands are cool too, by holding them under the cold water faucet for a few minutes during the baking process. Dry your hands and keep going.
- Since the dough is soft and the biscuits delicate, place them about 1" apart on baking sheets. If they are too far apart, the biscuits will spread too much. If they are too close together, the biscuits in the center won't bake through when the end biscuits are done.
- Finally, a light touch is essential! Handle the dough and the biscuits as little as possible. You don't want gluten to develop and you want the fat to stay cold until the biscuits bake, so hands off! Think of handling clouds or other very delicate objects during this whole process.