Master secrets to fantastic biscuits every time!...
The truth about making a great biscuit is that it is easy to do. In fact, biscuits are among the easiest, and quickest bread recipes you can find. You'll find such variety biscuit recipes out there that your particular efforts are bound to generate 'good', if not 'great' biscuits every time.
And when things don't turn out quite like you expect, you are sure to learn something great that will only improve your results next time. However, for those who want to shorten the learning curve, I have prepared some general directions that will help you to achieve the fantastic biscuits that you desire...
1. Mixing the dry ingredients.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into bowl. The success of your biscuit dough depends on uniformity. If you have ever tasted a biscuit with a salty or clumpy spot in it, it was probably because the dry ingredients weren't properly combined. Another reason to premix the dry ingredients is that you must have everything as mixed as possible before adding the wet ingredients. After the wet ingredients are added you won't be able to mix to complete uniformity or you will be in danger of developing gluten which makes an over-firm biscuit. So, achieve as much uniformity as you can by sifting before the wet ingredients go in.
2. Cutting in the fat.
Incorporating the butter into the flour is called "cutting-in" the fat. The secret to this is to make sure your butter is cold when you start. Warm butter will form a paste with the flour causing your biscuits to be flat and hard after baking. When you are cutting in the fat, use two knives, or a fork with widely spaced tines. Slice the butter or fat into increasingly smaller pieces, tossing with the flour to coat and separate pieces as you work. Again, avoid overworking the fat and creating a flour-fat paste. The proper consistency should be that of fairly uniform and coarse bread crumbs. A properly cut-in flour mixture, will create soft and flaky biscuits, with a pleasant crisp around the edges.
3. Adding the liquid ingredients.
Mix all liquids together prior to adding to the dry ingredients. Remember, uniformity is key here. So, blend the liquids together well. Make a hollow in the dry ingredients to recieve the liquids. Next, add the liquids all at once to this hollow. It is important to remember that once the liquid touches the flour, mixing must be kept to a minimum to avoid developing the gluten in the flour, which will produce hard biscuits. Stir the mixture with a fork or spatula until the dry ingredients are just moistened (or until dough follows the fork around the bowl). Dough should be soft at this point.
4. Kneading the dough.
Taking care not to over-handle the biscuit dough, you will then gather it into a ball and knead gently a few times inside the bowl. Knead just enough to incorporate the dry pieces into a single dough mass. Over the years, I have found that it is far better to leave some of the dough straggling than to over-work it.
5. Rolling out the dough.
Lightly flour a cutting area and turn the biscuit dough out of the bowl onto the surface. You can finger-pat most soft doughs into the proper thickness for cutting. You may also use a lightly-floured rolling pin to achieve the same result. Typical biscuit dough height ranges from about 1/4" to 1/2" thick.
6. Cutting out and baking the dough.
Cut the rolled dough with a biscuit cutter dipped lightly in flour. Then fit the scraps together, pat or roll them (do not knead), and cut. For those who prefer biscuits with soft sides, place the dough cutouts close together on an ungreased baking sheet (some recipes specify greased baking sheets). If you want biscuits with crustier edges, arrange dough rounds about 1" apart on baking sheet. You can achieve a rich brown crust by brushing unbaked biscuit tops with milk, light cream, or melted butter. Finally, bake in the center of a hot oven (about 450 degrees) for roughly 10 to 12 minutes, or until biscuits appear golden brown. Serve hot.