Fats and liquids in biscuits: choosing your favorite texture

How do you like your biscuits? Tall and tender, with a golden-brown bottom? Or do you like them a bit flatter and more sturdy, so you can toast and slather them with jam? As the baker, you get to decide how to adjust the fats and liquids in biscuits so they have just the right texture and taste.

When you start with a foolproof recipe like our Baking Powder Biscuits, it’s easy to customize the final result. While it’s certainly important to follow recipes closely while baking, you have some flexibility when it comes to choosing certain ingredients.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

How to adjust the fats and liquids in your biscuits so they’re perfectly suited to you! Click To Tweet

Choosing the fat for your biscuits

Let’s start with the base of any good biscuit — the fat. Our original recipe calls for 4 to 6 tablespoons of butter or shortening. The higher amount will give you a richer, more buttery crumb. I decide to split the difference for testing purposes and use 5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces).

Whenever we talk about fats in baking, we always hear from a portion of “lard-core bakers” (people who are dedicated to using lard). Customer feedback is something we take seriously here at King Arthur Flour, so we’ll incorporate lard (as well as coconut oil) into our fat testing.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

The butter version rises the highest — look at those flaky layers! The shortening biscuit is slightly shorter and a bit drier, too. Butter contains a bit of water, which helps create steam and gives baked goods a boost. (We discovered this to be true in our other explorations of butter vs. shortening, as well.)

The coconut oil biscuits are even shorter than the shortening biscuits, and the lard version is the squattest. Neither the coconut nor lard variations win the beauty contest, either. They’re a bit soft looking and don’t have that desirable, craggy exterior that makes biscuits so appealing.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

In addition to rising the highest, the butter version is also the brownest.

Why? Butter contains milk solids, which include sugars that caramelize at high temperatures. Shortening, coconut oil, and lard are all 100% fat. They contain no milk solids or sugars, so they don’t caramelize in the same way. Still tasty, just less golden brown.

This preliminary finding of what adjusting fat in biscuits can do is exciting, but it’s also just the beginning. On to liquids!

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Selecting the liquid for your biscuits

Just as important as the fat is the liquid used to make your biscuits. Our Baking Powder Biscuits recipe offers the choice of using milk or buttermilk. Buttermilk is known for making biscuits tender and adding a zippy tang, so we used that for this test.

Choices are important in baking, so we’ll also test variations with full-fat sour cream, half & half, and heavy cream. (You can also use plain, full-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream if you like.)

Each liquid has a different amount of water, fat, milk solids, and acidity — all of which can change the flavor and texture of your biscuits.

To see the effects of each liquid, we make a batch of all-butter biscuits and change only the liquid —testing buttermilk, sour cream, heavy cream, and half & half. (We leave milk out of these tests since milk and half & half should yield very similar results, with the half & half biscuits just slightly more tender).

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

It’s surprising what changing just one ingredient can do! The heavy cream biscuit is slightly paler than the other three, while the half & half version is the evenly brown. The buttermilk and sour cream versions are somewhere in the middle in terms of color: nicely caramelized around the edges.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

You might be wondering, well, what about the height? Surprisingly, all four biscuits are about the same height, with the buttermilk version just a smidge taller than the rest. Turns out that fat affects the height and flakiness of biscuits, while liquid impacts the color more noticeably.

Now we have a basic idea of what to expect when adjusting the fat and liquid in biscuits. Time to personalize your biscuits and choose your favorite combination!

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Testing fats and liquids in biscuits

There’s a bit of a baking frenzy in the test kitchen as I try out all the possible combinations of fat and liquid in biscuits. Here’s what we find:

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Shortening: A bit less flaky than some of the other versions but very tender — especially the heavy cream version: think melt-in-your-mouth texture. None of these has stand-out flavor though; they’re a bit bland. Still, not bad overall.

Coconut oil: Slightly sweet flavor (though not coconut-y), most similar to butter in flavor. The texture of some of the higher-fat versions (heavy cream and sour cream) is a bit chewy/gummy. The best combination from this batch is coconut oil and buttermilk: delicate crumb and creamy flavor.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Lard: Savory aroma with a distinct taste (and aftertaste). In full disclosure, I’m a vegetarian so some trustworthy employee-owners taste this batch. They think these biscuits might be nice with a sauce (gravy) or spread. The lard and half & half version seem to be the favorite here.

Since lard is such a rich ingredient on its own, it might be good to combine it with another fat, like butter, to balance flavor.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Butter: Slightly sweet, caramelized flavor; nicely browned exterior. All the liquid combinations produce fluffy, springy texture with an impressive rise. The butter and heavy cream version makes a quintessential biscuit, suitable for all occasions.

But the one I can’t get enough of? Butter and buttermilk biscuits. They’re delightful in all ways you’d expect a biscuit to be, and a little lighter than their heavy cream counterpart. Butter/buttermilk biscuits are flaky, creamy, and downright comforting.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Finding your favorite combination

Just because my taste buds prefer a classic butter and buttermilk biscuit doesn’t mean yours will, too.

Don’t be afraid to adjust the fats and liquids in biscuits the next time you’re called into the kitchen to whip up a batch.

Fats and liquids in biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Gluten-free bakers, feel empowered to experiment, too. Use our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour to replace the all-purpose flour in our Baking Powder Biscuits recipe. Adjust the fats and liquids until you find the perfect balance of flavor and texture.

You might be surprised to find what your favorite combination turns out to be. Once you experiment with the fats and liquids in biscuits, let us know which you like best in comments, below.

Thanks to fellow employee-owner Seann Cram for taking the photographs for this post.

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Engagement Team.

comments

  1. Margaret

    Although the basic recipe tasted good, the biscuits didn’t rise much and had crusty hard exteriors. Very disappointed. Size: for cutting them out I used a 1/3 c. measure. I had to reroll the dough several times to use up the scraps. Baked them at 425 for 20 minutes, which was about two minutes too long; but they weren’t brown at 15 minutes. I used 1/3 c. butter and one half cup milk and one half cup buttermilk. Mix was a little dry so added about 3 T more buttermilk.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re happy to help, Margaret! A few things frequently lead to hard, dry biscuits. The first and most common issue is if there’s too much flour, baked goods don’t rise well, are dry, dense, and lack flavor. Flour naturally packs down, so when measuring by volume, we recommend fluffing the flour with a whisk or spoon, sprinkling it into the measuring cup, and scraping off the excess. For the best accuracy, we recommend measuring your ingredients by weight.
      The second possible reason for biscuits being on the short or dense side is over-working the dough. The more times the dough is rolled out, the shorter each biscuit will become. Cutting the biscuits with a very sharp edge helps them rise as high as they can since the edges aren’t pinched down. The easiest way to barely handle the dough and to give each biscuit a sharp edge is to pat your dough into a square (or rectangle, whatever is easier) and cut square biscuits with a sharp knife. You’ll also want to slice off the edges. Any scraps can be baked off for snacks, they just won’t rise quite as high as the full biscuits.
      Lastly, if you’re baking your biscuits and they’re not browning, you can try moving them to the top of the oven, brushing melted butter them before baking, or using an egg wash of either a whole egg or egg yolk with some milk. Even if they aren’t browning on top (for whatever reason — it varies from oven to oven) pulling them out when they’re browned or set on the bottom is key to not drying them out. A fork is a great way to turn over a biscuit around the 17-minute mark to see if the bottom has crisped and set nicely.
      We hope that these tips will be of help, and that your next batch will be a treat to bake and to eat. If you have any other questions, our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or through chat and email on our website so always feel free to reach out. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Teresa Sutton

    I have been trying to freeze biscuits for later use (SR flour, shortening, and buttermilk). After a couple of attempts–one batch thawed and then cooked, a 2nd batch cooked from the frozen state– I have achieved baked hockey pucks. They are tasty but very thin and hard exterior. What should I do?
    Thanks!!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Teresa, if you’re not liking the results you’re getting by baking frozen (or frozen and then thawed) biscuits, you might want to try baking your biscuits and then freezing them. This ensures you’ll get the texture and rise you’re looking for, and they reheat beautifully. Store in a ziplock bag for up to three months. To serve, wrap the biscuits in foil and then place in a 350*F oven for about 10 minutes until hot throughout the biscuit. Serve with butter and enjoy! Kye@KAF

  3. Cindye

    I use 1/2 milk and 1/2 seltzer water. Carbonated soda makes for fluffier biscuits.
    Works for pancakes also.

    Reply
  4. Maryruth

    Whey, leftover liquid from drained homemade yogurt or ricotta makes the best biscuits I have ever made. I usually just do drop biscuits, this way the dough gets handled less and is very tender, it’s a fairly wet dough but sooo good! Self rising flour always.

    Reply
  5. Faridah Mansoor

    Thanks so much for yet another wonderful and informative tips! That’s why i love KAF. Have a great weekend everyone! Cheers!

    Reply
  6. Vivian

    Do you have any experience with using yogurt (plain or Greek), thinned with milk in lieu of buttermilk? I almost always have yogurt on hand, but don’t always have buttermilk.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We encourage you to give it a go, Vivian! If your dough or batters seem dry, drizzle in a little extra milk. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  7. Susan

    I’ve always made biscuits with buttermilk, Crisco, and Self Rising Flour. What are your thoughts on SR Flour instead of baking powder

    Reply
    1. Chef Sticky Buns

      I have a southern Aunt who swears by self rising flour. (She also has used lard. I don’t) She taught me how to make the best biscuits. I make mine with baking powder usually and there is NO difference. I believe that learning the technique is what makes great biscuits and the flour is a personal preference.

    1. Chef Sticky Buns

      I’ve made my biscuits with almond milk. I’ve also used greek yogurt they come out fine. Both were delicious.

  8. Shannon

    Thank you for this wonderful post! This is why I love KAF. Can someone tell me how I can add cream of tartar to your baking powder biscuit recipe? I love the flavor it adds, but I don’t want to mess up the acid/base balance. I usually use buttermilk as my liquid. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Shannon. You can easily add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar to your dough. If you find you want more of the flavor, bump it up to a teaspoon on the next batch. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  9. Drish

    This is the second time I use this recipe and it is still very helpful! I used it to make an pull-apart bundt bread. I used this recipe for the biscuit stuffed with a spiced apple rather then using store-bought biscuit dough. Although, I didn’t have any butter so I used diced avocado instead and it worked even better!

    A tip I would give to others, is to ask someone to help with the milk or pour a bit at a time. Not all at once! I ended up with an extremely sticky and unmanageable dough. Always have an extra half cup of flour by your side! You’ll thank me later…

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      I taught my students for years “never add all of anything to anything else at once”. Always leave yourself some room to maneuver! Susan

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