How to make high-rising biscuits: look sharp!

How to make high-rising biscuits has been many a baker’s challenge down the years. After all, biscuits are an enormous cultural touchstone in the American South, where cooks are often judged by their biscuit prowess. Even north of the Mason-Dixon line, there’s no denying most of us love a tender, flaky biscuit: stuffed with country ham, ladled with sausage gravy, or simply spread with butter.

For such a basic bread, though, biscuits can be tricky. This simple combination of flour, salt, fat, leavening, and liquid can result in biscuits ranging from light and tender to heavy and tough, depending on what specific ingredients you use, and how you put them together.

And while article after article addresses nuances of ingredients and technique (milk vs. buttermilk; patting vs. rolling), few concentrate on the penultimate step to high-rising biscuits: how you cut the dough.

OK, Grandma always used a drinking glass to cut her biscuits, and they were JUST FINE.

But Grandma had also been baking biscuits for years, and knew the perfect amount of buttermilk to splash into the flour, how to mix the dough without toughening it, and how to gently pat it to the ideal thickness. No matter what cutting implement she used, those biscuits were going to be pretty darned good.

Want to know how to make high-rising biscuits? The secret's right there in your hands. Click To Tweet

Many of us today, though, make biscuits infrequently and our skills may not be the greatest. We need all the help we can get every step of the way — and that includes learning how to make high-rising biscuits by using the proper cutter.

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the dough from our Baking Powder Biscuits recipe, patted out, gently rolled to even thickness, and ready to cut.

We’ll try two cutting implements: a drinking glass, and a biscuit cutter.

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

How to make high-rising biscuits? Choose the right cutter

The biscuit cutter, with its sharp edges, slices through the dough easily, simply by pushing straight down. No need to twist; in fact, twisting will help prevent a clean cut — so don’t do it!

The drinking glass is more of a struggle; I have to twist it and push hard to get it through the dough.

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

You can see the difference reflected in the cut dough: that’s a hole from the drinking glass on the left, from the biscuit cutter on the right. See the ragged edges left by the drinking glass? Those are the hallmarks of a rough (rather than clean) cut.

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

A sharp cutter leaves clean edges

Look at the difference in the actual biscuits, too. The drinking glass biscuit (left) shows obvious signs of its edges being compressed, while the biscuit cutter biscuit (right) shows a clean cut, with very little compression.

Why is this important? A biscuit whose edges are squashed together has a harder time rising than one with cleanly cut edges.

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflourClean edges = high-rising biscuits

The proof’s in the pudding — er, biscuit! On the left, the drinking glass biscuit; see how much shorter it is than the biscuit cut with a sharp cutter? A good set of biscuit cutters is inexpensive and will last you a lifetime.

Still, if you don’t have biscuit cutters you can easily make high-rising biscuits using a sharp knife or pizza wheel.

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Don’t have a round cutter? Cut squares

Instead of patting the biscuit dough into a circle, shape it into a square. Use a sharp knife to trim a thin strip of dough all around the edges of the square; then cut the square into smaller squares or diamonds. Bake as directed.

It may seem wasteful, but don’t neglect to trim those edges of the dough before cutting the biscuits. (The trimmings can be baked right along with the biscuits; they’re perfect for nibbling.)

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

On the left, a biscuit whose untrimmed right edge prevented it from rising evenly.

See what happens if you don’t trim the dough square’s outside edges? Any biscuits including an edge will be misshapen, sloping down towards their untrimmed side.

Still delicious; just not ready for any beauty shots!

You know what the best part about testing biscuit techniques is?

How to make high-rising biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Ending up with LOTS of biscuits!

Luckily, the day I did this testing I also helped prepare dinner at a local homeless shelter; thank you, King Arthur Flour, for providing every employee-owner with 40 paid hours per year to volunteer. Trust me, all of these biscuits ended up in a good place.

Want to read more about biscuits? See these posts:
Tips for better biscuits
Fats and liquids in biscuits
Easy gluten-free biscuits

Do you have any favorite biscuit-baking tips — something special Grandma shared with you, or you discovered on your own? Please share in comments, below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. sandy

    This year I have made more biscuits than all of the biscuits I ever made before in my life combined. They are a new found love. For me, using recipes that use heavy cream instead of butter or shortening work better, rise higher and are lighter and more tender. I love the KAF Savory Cheddar Cheese Biscuits and the Biscuit Sausage Roll recipes. I also use the round cutters in the pictures above. I think though, that I pat my dough out to thin. PJ, it looks like your dough is about an inch thick from the pictures. Also, I am never sure how wet the dough should be. Sticky or not sticky? I think that the amount of liquid in the dough would impact rise but I am not sure.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sandy, good for you — a newfound baking passion! I, too, enjoy our Never-Fail Biscuits, made with heavy cream. While not as layered, they’re incredibly tender. I’ve decided my optimum height for these biscuits when patting out the dough is 5/8″. 3/4″ yields biscuits that could tend to topple or list; 1/2″ makes a biscuit that’s a bit too short for my taste. As for toppling, though, my fellow test kitchen baker Susan Reid says that if you space the biscuits very close to one another on the pan, they help support one another as they rise and bake — no leaning! Thanks for sharing here, Sandy — PJH@KAF

    2. Jeany D

      A baker for many years, I have found a sticky dough produces tender rolls/loaves. Just enough liquid to be pliant and not too stiff. I start with the amount of liquid called for in the recipe and adjust the flour addition as needed to make a soft dough. My biscuits/rolls/loaves are always nice and tender and rise well.

  2. Lorraine Fina Stevenski

    Lovely biscuits PJ! To get flaky layers, I roll out the dough then fold into a letter and then again. But very gently. This makes very tall biscuits that have nice flaky layers. I use buttermilk and butter and our southern flour (sorry KA!). And..don’t use your oven on convect mode or your biscuits will be blown over and look like the leaning tower of pisa.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Gentle, gentle… that’s one of the secrets, isn’t it, Lorraine? Thanks for the tip about convection ovens — now that you mention it, I remember seeing this happen once in our test kitchen when someone wasn’t thinking and turned the fan on. It looked like a biscuit lunar landscape! 🙂 PJH@KAF

  3. Lisa Marie

    I like to pat the dough out, fold it over and pat it out once again. Place it back in the fridge to chill and just before I need them pat the dough out fold it back on it self several times. I have even chilled them once cut. Remember that twisting the cutter will close the layers so they can’t expand to rise. Just a straight clean cut. I enjoy adding cheese, or fresh herbs depending on the meal they’re being served with.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Good advice, Lisa Marie — folding and chilling both help create flaky layers; and a straight, clean cut is key. Add-ins are always welcome, of course; one of my favorites is a sugar cube soaked in orange juice pushed into the center of each biscuit before baking. Try it sometime — PJH@KAF

  4. Christine Nelson

    Beautiful biscuits PJ…and I also have to sheepishly admit, that my favorite biscuit ifs the cinnamon biscuit from Hardees. I have tried to replicate that biscuit, but find that you have to work the dough a little more to incorporate the cinnamon, which as we all know is a no no and leads to a less tender biscuit. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Christine, whether you’re using an actual cinnamon filling or simply cinnamon or cinnamon-sugar, how about if you sprinkle/spread it on the dough as you’re making the letter folds? I think that would work just fine. (And I definitely want to try those sometime!) Good luck — PJH@KAF

    2. Lynn C.

      My mom was they same way Christine! What worked well for us was adding the cinnamon to the butter/shortening then mixing as usual.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sabrina, I used our basic Baking Powder Biscuits recipe – just baking powder, no yeast. Baking powder/baking soda are wonderful leavening ingredients, when paired with the proper collection of fellow ingredients! PJH@KAF

  5. Rebecca

    PJ, as always I appreciate your scientific process and your realistic approach to baking. I read a lot of food blogs and, while I love to look at the pretty photographs, they are not a reflection of my baking life. Thanks for bringing some reality back to food blogs!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      My pleasure, Rebecca – truly. I love to bake but even more, I love connecting with people and helping others bake their very best. It’s such a gratifying, relaxing pastime, isn’t it? Thanks for your kind words. PJH@KAF

  6. Christine Nelson

    PJ…thank you for the suggestion as to sprinkling the cin/sug on the folds…now why didn’t I think of that??? And yes, please try the ones from Hardee’s…they are so good…very tender, served warm of course, with a simple pow. sugar icing. YUM

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Christine, if there was a Hardee’s anywhere in the vicinity here — I’d definitely try those biscuits. For now, I’ll just have to enjoy them vicariously… 🙂 PJH@KAF

  7. Rohna Harkless

    Hi PJ,

    I love this blog (apparently I’m a visual learner)! I have always wanted to master biscuit baking, but until I read the tips in this blog post and comments, my biscuits always disappointed me. Despite careful weighing/measuring of ingredients, the biscuits turned out lopsided, didn’t rise very high, and just weren’t very pretty.

    This time around, I applied two tips from this post: don’t use the convection fan and don’t twist the cutter – just press straight down. They turned out GREAT! Even the biscuits I made from the scraps were good – just not quite so pretty as the first ones. Thanks so very much! My family and I loved them.

    Reply
  8. Michael

    I’ve never had a problem using my dual-fan convection. How funny – maybe I’ve never really gotten a proper high-rise! Still, there’s nothing like opening the oven to full racks of golden biscuits. We just had buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy this morning — great to see this post. I love making them with your self-rising flour. Our kids would live on biscuits… if we let them!

    Reply
  9. Jeany D

    I have been using King Arthur flour for easily 40-50 years with great results. Whether using yeast or baking soda/powder, I think the trick for getting tender biscuits or loaves is the amount of liquid used. I aim for a dough that is quite sticky while still being able to handle and shape it. If the dough is too stiff it will produce a tough product. KAF has always come through for me in my long years as an experienced baker. It’s great.

    Reply
  10. Kate

    I started grating a frozen stick of butter and stashing the shreds in the freezer…when’re I want biscuits, I weight out the right amount of butter shreds, add the flour, leavening, and buttermilk and voila! Dough without the pain of cutting in butter.

    Reply
    1. Judy

      What wonderful tips on biscuit making! I must sheepishly admit that I have been a drinking glass biscuit cutter in the past, but will never do so again. My husband loves biscuits, but mine have been disappointing…now I know the trick! On a side note, I am loving the pre-cut parchment I ordered from KA recently. What a blessing! Thanks King Arthur.

    2. Jennifer McGuire

      I just started grating butter for biscuits myself, after discovering the technique when making rough puff pastry. What a revelation! Between that, and doing three quick sets of folds, I’m making the fastest and flakiest biscuits i’ve ever produced.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      The butter should be cold from the fridge; using cold butter increases flakiness. Good luck — PJH@KAF

  11. Ron

    I grew up in Louisiana and have been making biscuits for about 50 years now. I first learned very rigid rules, i.e. soft wheat flour (9-11% protein–low protein = less gluten = more tender), cut the fat in (lard, crisco, or butter), use buttermilk, add a touch of soda to counteract the acidity in the buttermilk, then baking powder. Handle the dough gently, never roll/overwork, and use sharp cutters (don’t twist). Later I was told to be precise in measuring using weights, not volume. Sift/don’t sift is another variable.

    All of those rules will make a great biscuit. I hunted for the “perfect” biscuit recipe. I made my share of hockey pucks. The epiphany was that biscuits are like wine. No one type is “the perfect one!” I now have 4 go to recipes depending on what I’m doing (and still looking for more). I use “classic” recipes with soft wheat and a solid fat cut in, then milk or butter milk. Recipes with a liquid fat (cream) and soft wheat or KA AP (11.7% protein). Sausage biscuits that incorporate raw pork sausage as a source of fat. Some rolled, some patted, some spoon drop.

    My current favorite (though hardest and most time consuming) uses KA AP with 2 sticks of frozen butter grated in. The dough is so shaggy when you start that you swear it will never come together. You tri fold and roll, yes roll, then repeat for a total of 5 times. I would have sworn they would be tough because of overworking. The key is that you are using 2 sticks of butter (fats decrease gluten formation) and layers (243 if you do the math) to create a very tender and flaky biscuit. It is rolled in a square and after a rest, you trim the edges and cut the biscuits square. I roll the trimmings into pin wheels and call them “biscuit ends.” No waste.

    The point of all of this is, despite what my east Texas grandma taught me, there are many paths to biscuit nirvana. If you are not spooning out the batter, trimming is the key to nicely risen biscuits. Compressed edges prevent rising. That is the major take away of this article. Don’t be afraid to play around. You’ll find several recipes that you like and work for you consistently and KA is always a great resource.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Ron, thanks so much — well said! There are indeed many different paths to the same delicious destination. Really appreciate all the good information you’ve shared here — PJH@KAF

  12. stephanie

    I’ve been making biscuits for a year now and have always used a juice glass to cut my biscuits and they have always been perfectly round and rise amazingly high. I also do not twist my glass. I just press down and it’s not struggle to make it through the dough. Maybe you are making the dough too tough by over working it. I don’t roll out my dough, but press it to the proper thickness with my hands. I also use a shredder to shred my frozen unsalted butter instead of cutting it in. It makes it so much easier. I could never cut it in properly until I learned that method. Try it for yourself and see if it works for you as well

    Reply
    1. stephanie

      I forgot to mention…I use Buttermilk instead of just plain whole milk. Other than that, my recipe is relatively the same. If I remember correctly, I use a whole Tbl of baking powder

    2. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thanks, Stephanie – I always say, if what you’re doing works well for you — keep doing it! No baking police. Clearly you’ve hit on a recipe and techniques that produce great biscuits. I’ve used shredded butter in pie crust, but not biscuits; I’ll give that a try sometime, thanks. PJH@KAF

  13. Naomi

    1/21/18

    Greetings. Problem-solving. Suggestions, please.

    ” Artesianal” breads continue to come out tough. Use KA flour, their starter and follow directions very carefully, weighing ingredients and only use bottled water.
    Bread looks good but tough. Steam cook in pre-headed pan with Dutch oven; Lame, although sharp, drags. Third time for this. More water?
    Shorter baking time? (Use pre-heated pan, 500 degree F oven”
    Houston, Texas. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Naomi, sounds like you need to call our baker’s hotline; they can get more details, and then talk through this with you, OK? Call us: 855-371-2253. PJH@KAF

  14. stephanie

    forgot to mention as well. I use the letter folding method. I fold the side ends over, very gently then fold the top down and the bottom up and repeat 5 times. Then pat it to proper size. And again this produces the most flaky, moist, tender biscuits

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Stephanie, definitely adding layers there which helps with flakiness. I’ve never tried it five times; I’ll give that a go next time. Thanks! PJH@KAF

  15. Wanda Huff

    I just make a simple buttermilk biscuit: 1 cup KA Self Rising Flour, 2 T. Lard or Crisco 1/8 t. Baking soda and 1/2 cup buttermilk. I mix it with a fork. Sometimes if the buttermilk is very thick, I have to add a splash. Pat the dough to a little over 1/2 inch thick. To me, the trick is in the baking. Before I begin making the dough, I put a cast iron skillet in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F. Allow the skillet to stay in that 500-degree oven and then make your biscuit dough. Once the biscuits are cut, remove the skillet from the oven, melt shortening or lard in the skillet. Lay the biscuits into the skillet and return skillet to the oven for 9 minutes, until lightly tanned. They begin cooking the minute you lay them in the skillet and my husband and I love this method, as they always turn out high and light. There are only two of us so this makes just the right amount for us.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Wanda, thanks for the recipe, and I love the baking tip — I’ve never tried biscuits in a preheated pan, but I have some beautiful 19th-century cast iron skillets, and I suspect they’d be perfect for this method. Thanks so much for sharing! PJH@KAF

  16. Maria

    Just made these biscuits. So delish. I cut them into squares, but I forgot to trim the edges. Will do it next time.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Maria, looks aren’t everything! As long as they taste good, that’s the bottom line, right? As you say, try cutting the edges next time — they may rise more evenly. Thanks for adding your feedback here — PJH@KAF

  17. Donielle

    I think its wonderful that King Arthur gives you folks paid time to volunteer. It cements King Arthur flour in my mind as my product of choice.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      We really appreciate it, Donielle. We make sure to focus part of our time on food-related efforts, but we also read to elementary school children, work for Habitat for Humanity, and send a large team to help with our cancer center’s annual fundraiser, among other projects. Glad it resonates with you as it does with us! PJH@KAF

  18. Joy

    I have a set of square biscuit cutters that I love! They’re sharp and cut very well. I like having several different sizes. The largest I use for biscuits used for breakfast with ham and a smaller size I use for supper biscuits.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Joy, it’s very handy having a set of different-size cutters, isn’t it? You can use them to cut out brownies or other bars, too; or cut one large square brownie, then cut a smaller square in its center, put the larger brownie on a plate, and fill the hole in the center with chocolate or caramel, whipped cream or ice cream — something different and quite delicious! PJH@KAF

  19. Janice Hanks

    I love making biscuits. I use 2 cups of self-rising flour, a hefty tablespoon of shortening, about 1/3 cup of light(low fat) sour cream and enough fat free buttermilk to make a soft/sticky dough. Dump it on to my floured board(all purpose for flouring the board, never self-rising), knead about 4 times then pat in to a large circle. Using my rolling pin, I level the dough to the height I want. I always use a sharp biscuit cutter, never twist! Place on a lightly sprayed pan, biscuit sides touching and bake for 10 minutes in a pre-heated 450 degree oven. A little piece of Heaven on Earth 😉

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Heaven indeed, Janice. I like your tip about putting the biscuits close together, too — that way they support one another as they rise, and there’s less chance of making those “leaning towers of biscuits.” 🙂 PJH@KAF

  20. Cate

    I’m wondering if I’m actually using the wrong type of cutter since mine aren’t rising as much. They have a scalloped edge like you would see on thin crackers. Would this make much of a difference? And thank you, King Arthur, for giving me the confidence to jump into the world of baking!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Cate, if you see a good, clean cut edge using your scalloped cutter (rather than edges that are squashed), then it’s fine. If your biscuits aren’t rising much, you might want to check your recipe; your flour; your oven, to make sure it’s preheating correctly (give it plenty of time to preheat); and if you’re using baking powder, make sure it’s fresh enough. There are lots of reasons biscuits don’t rise well, with cutting being just one. One more thing: Don’t roll the dough too thin; I like my dough about 5/8″ thick for a nice, tall biscuit. Good luck — and if you need more help, call our baker’s hotline: 855-371-2253. Good luck! PJH@KAF

    2. Linda

      I have used the scalloped edge cutters for several real years now and have good rise. Depends on less handling of dough after good kneading, thickness of dough when cutting. I do bake them on baking stone heated in oven while preheating?!?!

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Linda, as long as the edge of the scalloped edge cutter is sharp, we’ve found this works just fine. We sell some sharp-edged scalloped cutters for biscuits that work quite well. We bet baking on a hot stone give your biscuits a crispy bottom and lofty rise. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  21. Bonnie

    My Great Grandmother used to put some club soda in her’s to make them really light and fluffy………….so delicious !!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I’ve heard of this, Bonnie — a little fizz might translate to a bit more rise, eh? Thanks for sharing — PJH@KAF

  22. Heather M

    This is really good advice as I’m on a quest to improve my biscuit making!

    Also impressive is the donation to the food bank and KAF’s commitment to volunteerism. One of the many reasons I shop with you.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thanks for your kind words, Heather. We take pride in both our baking advice and our work in the community — in equal measure! PJH@KAF

  23. Gwen

    Ha! Just made biscuits this week and they were tall, fluffy, and delicious. But I was wondering why the first two I cut ended up lopsided. Now I see I why; I was trying to save the amount of dough that would have to be reformed by making my first cuts right at the edge. Love the blog posts with all the pictures – I always learn something. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Gwen, you just need to slice off the smallest bit of dough. And then you can lay those slices on the pan, sprinkle with shredded cheese or cinnamon-sugar, and make some exceedingly delicious snacks. (Trust me, I’m the voice of experience here!) PJH@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Donna, we’ve been experiencing the same thing; aside from a few recipes where the difference between the comparative thickness of buttermilk and yogurt might make a difference, they act the same way in many baked goods. Thanks for sharing — PJH@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Haven’t tested that, Jay, but I don’t see why not — go for it! Don’t try to rehydrate the dried buttermilk, though; mix the powder right into the other dry ingredients, then add the water where you’d add the milk. PJH@KAF

  24. Amy

    Could I use einkorn (all purpose or whole) or spelt (all purpose or whole) in this recipe? Any suggestions on alterations? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Amy, I’m not sure about any difference in hydration using those grains, which will depend on their grind as much as anything; you’d want to start with the given amount of milk/liquid, then let the dough sit for 20 minutes, so the flour can absorb the liquid. If the dough seems very dry (e.g., crumbling into pieces), gently knead in a bit more liquid. The biscuits will be darker and more strongly flavored, of course; but they should rise nicely. For more information, see our post on using whole grains in biscuits and other breakfast treats. Good luck — PJH@KAF

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