In North America a "biscuit" is a small quick bread
that is made with flour, butter (or lard or shortening), baking
powder (soda), milk (buttermilk), eggs, and sometimes a small amount
of granulated white sugar. A perfect biscuit, in my mind, should have a golden brown crusty top and bottom
and when you split it in half it should be soft and flaky
and moist enough to absorb a pat of butter, which is absolutely
The American biscuit is very similar to the British scone. The difference is that while scones are often served
split in half and filled with jam and cream, biscuits are
usually served alongside a meal. Both biscuits and scones are best
served warm from the oven with butter. Biscuits are also excellent for
making another American favorite, the Strawberry Shortcake.
To make a good biscuit, the correct mixing of the ingredients is
crucial. Although you could use an electric mixer I prefer to mix the
dough by hand using either a pastry blender, two knives or just my
fingertips. Mixing by hand helps to prevent over mixing of the
dough. To begin, the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder/baking
soda, and salt) are whisked or sifted together in a large bowl. Next the butter is cut into the flour until it
looks like coarse crumbs. It is important that the butter be
cold so when it is worked into the flour mixture it becomes
small, flour- coated crumbs, not a smooth dough. This method
is similar to how a
pie dough is made and gives the biscuit a wonderful delicate and
flaky texture. The wet ingredients are then
added to the flour mixture. Only mix the dough until it comes
together. I cannot stress enough that this dough should not be
overworked and that a light hand is needed. If you end up with a hard and doughy biscuit,
you will know to mix the dough less the next time. When the dough is mixed, gather it up in your hands and
place on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough a few times to
make it a cohesive mass and then roll to
1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thickness.
Use a lightly floured cookie cutter and cut into rounds. Place on a
parchment paper lined baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. Using
an egg wash gives the biscuits a nice appearance and helps with browning.
Biscuits need to be baked in a hot oven so the dough sets quickly thereby
producing a light biscuit with a golden brown top and bottom with white
sides. They are done when they are nicely browned and a toothpick
inserted in the center of the scone comes out clean. The texture of
the interior should be light and soft, and white in color. Cool on a
wire rack. If you want crusty biscuits, cool them uncovered. If a softer crust is desired, then wrap the hot biscuits in a clean dish
Recipe: Preheat oven to 400
degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet
with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl,
whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into
the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (use pastry
blender, two knives, or fingertips). Add the milk and slightly beaten egg and stir
until just combined. (The texture should be sticky, moist and lumpy.)
Place mixture on a
lightly floured surface. Knead the dough
gently until it comes together and is a smooth dough.
Roll out dough to
about a 1/2
inch (1.25 cm) thickness. Cut out biscuits with a lightly floured round cookie
cutter. Place on prepared baking sheet and brush the tops with the beaten egg
and milk mixture and bake for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the tops are golden
brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the biscuit comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Serve warm with butter.
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