Flaky Biscuits (plus, picking the right flour for all your recipes)

Flaky Biscuits with jam | photo by Zoë François

Biscuits. Flaky biscuits. Nothing better!

There are three things that guarentee you will have tender, flaky biscuits every time. Flour, Fat and Folding. The type of flour you use will take your biscuits from tough to tender. I use a combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour, so that I have enough structure in my biscuits to create the flaky layers, but are tender when I break into them. I’ll talk more about flour in a minute. Then there is fat. You want it cold. It should be blended into the flour, but you also want some pieces to stay in tact to create the flakiness. This is just like making pie dough. Lastly there is folding. By folding the dough, you create even more layers and the biscuits are guaranteed to be flaky.

Flaky Biscuits

1 1/2 cups (215g) all-purpose flour*

2/3 cup (80g) cake flour*

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

Scant 1 cup buttermilk

————

* Flour 101

There are essentially 3 kinds of white wheat flours that are most common in baking recipes. But, beyond those there are some flours you may run into. Here is a very brief description of what makes the flours different and how you usually use them. There are always exceptions, so be sure to use the flour called for in the recipe.

Most common flours:

  1. bread flour – this has a high amount of protein (13-16%). The protein is what creates gluten when you mix flour and liquid together. Gluten gives dough the stretch and structure you need to rise, particularly in breads. This flour has too much protein to be used well in cakes, cookies, biscuits and pie doughs.
  2. all-purpose flour – this flour has plenty of gluten developing protein (10-12%), but not as much as bread flour, which makes it more suitable for many cakes, cookies, biscuits and pie dough. You will find bleached and unbleached versions. I tend to use unbleached, because I prefer the flavor and it has a nice creamy color to it. If you are going for a pure white color in your cake, then bleached is the way to go.
  3. cake flour – this is the lowest protein (7-8%) of them all and so it is perfect for delicate cakes and in combination with all-purpose flour makes for a really tender biscuit. You can’t use this flour for bread, because it has so little gluten development that the bread wouldn’t have the structure to trap the gases developed by the yeast. Almost always bleached, although King Arthur Cake Flour came out with an unbleached version.

Less common, but still useful:

white lily all-purpose flour or southern flours – these are traditionally made with soft winter wheat and are lower in protein (9%), so they are traditionally used in biscuits in the south. It is what I was trying to recreate by combining the all-purpose and cake flours.

self-rising flour – this is typically a soft wheat flour that has leavening agents added to it. If you use this flour, you no longer need to add the baking powder or salt. (Protein content around 9-10%)

pastry flour – is a combination of all-purpose and cake flour with protein content between the two (8-9%). You will rarely find this flour outside of a professional pastry kitchen.

gluten-free flour – there are now many products you can find to replace wheat flour for those who have celiac disease or are intolerant to gluten or wheat. I’ve used these g-f products from Cup4Cup and Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour with great success in pastries, but haven’t had as good results in bread recipes. These flours obviously have no gluten forming proteins and generally use xanthan, guar gum or psyllium to create the structure in the dough.

Check out my free Craftsy video on making flaky biscuits:

Making flaky biscuits:

Preheat oven to 425°F

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Cutting the butter into the dry ingredients

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry dough blender and cutter or by using your hands. If you use your hands, just be sure not to over work the butter or you may make it soft. If this happens, refrigerate the flour/butter mixture until the butter solidifies again. You should have very small pea sized pieces of butter still in tact.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Adding buttermilk into the dry ingredients

Add the buttermilk and stir together. The dough will look a bit shaggy, but should no longer have dry powdery flour and it shouldn’t be too wet either. If you need a few more drops of liquid, add it sparingly, you don’t want the dough to be too soft.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Folding the dough using a pastry scraper

Pour the shaggy dough onto the work surface and fold the dough over on itself a few times using a pastry scraper. This will form a more cohesive dough, but won’t melt the butter.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Rolling out the dough into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface

Lightly flour the surface and roll the dough out to 1/4-inch rectangle. Try to keep it as clean a rectangle as possible, but don’t worry if the edges are a bit scruffy.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Folding the dough in thirds with a pastry scraper

Now fold the dough into thirds using your pastry scraper.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Folding the dough in thirds with a pastry scraper

And again, so it is like a letter.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Cutting the dough with a biscuit cutter

Now use a biscuit cutter to cut out the dough.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter

Gently press together any scraps and use them to make more biscuits. Be careful not to over work these scraps or they will end up tough.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Place biscuits on a lined baking sheet

Place the biscuits on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Biscuits on a lined baking sheet

Make sure they have enough space to expand slightly in the oven. They will grow up more than out, so they can be placed fairly close.

Bake at 425°F for about 15 minutes or until they are golden brown on top.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Baked flaky biscuits on a lined baking sheet

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Baked flaky biscuits on a lined baking sheet

Your biscuits should have great rise and be super flaky.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Baked flaky biscuits on a lined baking sheet

Serve your flaky biscuits with jam or with sausage and gravy.

How to Make Flaky Biscuits | Baked flaky biscuits on a lined baking sheet with jam

Enjoy.

11 thoughts to “Flaky Biscuits (plus, picking the right flour for all your recipes)”

  1. the combination of you being a baker extraordinaire, reading what you typed above, and some of my dna belonging to the deep south, hints that you will not laugh at me like my friends when i tell you how crushed i was a decade ago to hear that white lily was no longer farming in their heirloom fields. but… even with this slight difference in flavor profile, i still found no other that could take down white lily. so, yes… i am one of those mad freaks that orders her flour in the mail to feed my fix. when i run out due to excessive biscuit eating or mess up and forget to order in a timely manner because of too much netflix activity messing up my flow, i always calm myself down by saying, “no big deal. you will survive without biscuits. stop being an idiot. life goes on.”. zoe, you have now given me a way to never lie to myself again!!! i am all over this formula to get close to that which white lily offers up in one scoop… i will be making these ap/cake flour lovelies tomorrow!!! thank you x100000

  2. Do you find any truth in cutting straight down without twisting the biscuit cutter so that you don’t prevent them from rising?

    1. Hi Anna,

      Yes, I try not to twist of squish the dough, but it is unavoidable, no matter your technique. You can lift the edges with your fingers to help the layers a bit.

      Thanks, Zoë

  3. Instead of cutting your butter in, grate it first so all you have to do is basically toss the flour and butter together. I will also reserve a little butter back so that when I do the folding I add the butter in at that time to create the flaky layers. If making cinnamon and raisin biscuits, I will add the cinnamon, sugar, raisins in at the folding.

  4. Made these with unbleached AP flour (what I had in the pantry) and the cake flour. Turned out great. I have made biscuits with White Lily self rising flour, but I have to special order it and I am too lazy. These are equally good, flaky and tender… just more rustic than using WL. Also I always grate a frozen stick of butter (tip from Southern Living), lightly tossing it in the flour along the way so it’s distributed evenly. The last biscuits cut from reforming the dough scraps always rise higher and are flakier than the first ones, but are just as tender…I always eat those first. Thanks for the recipe!

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