Homemade Biscuits - HELP!

My first thread, and I’m fairly confidant it’s a subject that hasn’t been covered yet.

Yesterday morning, I wanted to make Mr. Bunny some hot, tasty homemade biscuits. And, for the fourth consecutive time, failed miserably. They didn’t puff, they didn’t brown, they didn’t COOK, they didn’t do a damn thing but turn to rock hard, crumbly little pucks of what tasted like it could have been decent biscuits, had I not screwed up some unidentified but apparently extremely important step of the biscuit-baking process.

So what is it??? This recipe is from the Moosewood cookbook: flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, buttermilk (okay, to be honest I was fresh out of buttermilk and substituted regular milk instead) & canola oil. I followed the directions to the letter, even using their divide-in-half-place-one-half-on-other-and-press-down method instead of kneading. My baking powder was fresh, and I sifted people! Honest! And the results were…well, see above. I am pretty sure that the buttermilk, or lack thereof, was not responsible, since I’ve tried other recipes before with the exact ingredients called for and received the same, unappetizing result.

As stated, this is the fourth time I’ve screwed up biscuits, from four different cookbooks, so it’s obviously me. Is there some secret I don’t know about? Can someone help me??? :slight_smile:

Oh, and I apologize if this doesn’t belong in Cafe Society, but I’ve seen cooking threads here before so thought it was the best place.

OK here’s my biscuit recipe…


2 c self-rising flour
5 t shortening
½ t baking soda
¼ t cream of tartar
1 t sugar
1 c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425º.

Combine the flour, soda, cream of tartar and sugar in a large bowl and mix well.

Cut in the shortening with 2 knives or the side of a fork. Add in the buttermilk and stir until mixed.

Place the dough on a well-floured surface and knead 3 times. Pat out the dough and cut with a round biscuit cutter or juice glass. Re-pat the scraps and cut again.

Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet and bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until they turn golden brown.

Yes, self-rising flour and soda. That’s the way my grammy taught me, so it has to be right.

Probably what happened was the milk. At higher altitude, moisture is very important - and just using regular milk instead of buttermilk did not compensate enough. Normally, biscuit dough is sturdy enough not to worry about altitude, but I think that combined with the lack of buttermilk is what did it. Also, be careful about over-working the dough.

Thank you for the recipe, I will give that a go. And you may be right about the milk after all, since you mentioned altitude. All these times I’ve tried & failed to make biscuits have been since we moved to Reno, here at 4500 feet. I always have to remind myself to modify recipes to the “High Altitude” versions.

How old is your baking powder? My biscuits were pucked up until I freshened the Calumet.

As with any short dough, you should make sure the fat is cut in very well, but NOT overworked. Use your fingers. Overworking the dough makes the end product tough and chewy. The fat should be very cold and worked in quickly so as not to warm it with your fingers. It wouldn’t hurt to put the dough back in the fridge and let it rest a bit.

When you cut the biscuits, cut straight down. Don’t twist the cutter or otherwise ‘work’ the dough.

ditto on Chefguy. I used CHILLED butter in a CHILLED food processor and CHILLED buttermilk, and toss it back in the fridge between every step.

Wow. All of you people have way more… stuff in your biscuits. I make cathead biscuits like my aunt taught me, in which you take

  • 1 bunch of all purpose flour and cut it with
  • 1 rough finger-full of Crisco and sort of fluff-combine until it feels like you did it right, and add
  • as much buttermilk as it takes to make it feel like you did it right.

Unfortunately, this recipe is awfully hard to give to other people.
And every time I try to explain it I get confused about it. I mean, I have to use salt, right? Maybe I do, gotta call Aunt Ritha. :slight_smile:

lissener: As I mentioned in the first post, I used fresh baking powder. I had thought that this was probably the case with the other failed batches, as we were using bulk baking powder out of a little plastic sack, so this time I bought it special! Alas & alack, no biscuits.

Chefguy: So you’re saying with the recipe I used, I should have chilled the oil? Everything else you described I did.

The biscuits that flopped on Sunday definitely seemed to be lacking in moisture. They tasted great (what pathetic little chunks we were able to chip off of the hardened hockey pucks that came forth from the oven), but the dough was chunky & crumbly right from the start, and I resisted the urge to add more milk or anything since I usually trust Moosewood more than my own judgement.

Thank you for all the wonderful advice!

Ahhhh. I missed the part about canola oil. You need a different recipe. Ditch the oil, use lard, butter or shortening, well chilled. Oil doesn’t accomplish the same thing. Also, see lissener’s comments about cold liquid and a cold bowl. Add the liquid gradually and work it in until you have a good dough, but don’t knead it. Letting it rest in the fridge for a couple of hours will help. Wrap it in some plastic wrap first.

OK. I think I see your problem.

Milk IS NOT a substitute for buttermilk!!! The acidity is totally different. Since the recipe called for baking POWDER, you needed the acidity of buttermilk to get the rise going.

That, plus the fact that you needed more liquid, as others have stated. But don’t swap out ingredients like crazy. Buttermilk is buttermilk…accept no substitutes!

Yes, I am having difficulties with my biscuits also.

I just can’t get that Pillsbury cardboard cylinder to pop open…

I’m too scared…

genie’s emergency substitute for buttermilk: milk + a sploosh of white vinegar (about 1 T per 2 cups milk, or more). Makes great Irish soda bread, anyway.

Have you tried Bisquik? I’m not normally a cheater cook, but I have to confess that I love the taste of Bisquik. I can make fine biscuits from scratch, really I can–I just don’t.

Except that you can make sour milk using regular milk and vinegar or lemon juice that will behave in the same way as buttermilk in a biscuit recipe. As a matter of fact, we have done a biscuit thread before and I posted the recipe I grew up making. We never kept buttermilk in the house, so my biscuits were always made using the alternative method, as outlined in that recipe:

Anyway, you might want to read through that thread for some additional suggestions, hints and recipes to try. It seems no one tried the one I posted, but I can attest that I got perfect results every time. Good luck!

Foolproof biscuit recipe

  1. Obtain one (1) can of Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh[TM] biscuit dough, or one (1) can of the store brand equivalent.

  2. Tear off label in such a way as to still be able to read the preparation directions.

  3. Follow said preparation directions.


Agreed that the acidity in buttermilk is essential.

I can’t find my mama’s recipe at the moment (and don’t yo be dissin’ my mama) but the really important thing is the quick mixing, and almost complete lack of “working” the dough.

The recipe involves combining the dry ingredients, plunking gobs of Crisco on top of them in the bowl, and dousing the whole works with buttermilk. Then you just stir briskly with a fork for about 5 seconds.

Dump the whole thing out onto floured paper towels, and pat it out using the edges of the towel. Cut, and bake. You can have the dough ready for the oven long before the oven is even preheated.

The way I make these, they’re so tender they fall apart. A trained chef would probably cut in the fat, and finesse the dough just a little bit, but the paper-towel-pat method ensures you don’t over-work it, which is perhaps the most common mistake when people have problem biscuits.

digs, that was just too funny! I am scared of that thing too…!

NailBunny, I am going to Canada for Thanksgiving, and my husband’s aunt make simply the most amazing biscuits in the world… I don’t even really like biscuits and I just love hers.
I will try to see if she uses milk or oil, or whatever she uses!

Why does altitude matter?

Water boils at 212 degrees F at sea level. the higher up you go the less heat is needed to reach this point. In addition, with less air pushing down on your cake or bisquit it will rise more with the same amount of leavening. Pressure cookers use this little trick in the opposite way. The increased pressure allows water
to remain a liquid at a much higher temperature than 212, cooking your food quicker.

Can’t add too much more, though you might want to get an oven thermometer too and verify the temperature.

No, you are thinking of baking soda. Baking powder has its own acid so milk is just fine. Sometimes I use 2/3 milk and 1/3 heavy cream. Makes for some tasty bicuits that stand up nicely with gravy.