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. D. Hovermale

    Lately I’ve been reading a lot about butter vs shortening in biscuits, & now I’m unsure which to use. What happens if I use 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter? Will that make a tender, flaky, high rise biscuit, or will it cause problems? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad you asked, D.! We wrote a full article on our blog that did a side-by-side comparison of biscuits made with different fats and liquids. In the post, you can see what the biscuits look like when they’re made with butter vs. shortening. In the post we say, “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.” If you’d like to try using half shortening and half butter to make up the full amount, you might like the results. It’s worth giving a try. Happy biscuit baking! Kye@KAF

  2. New cook

    HI
    What is the thickness of your raw biscuit, because I think I am making my too thin,
    It looks to me to be about an 1inch

    thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you want to make thick, high-rising biscuits, try patting your dough out so that it’s about 3/4″ to 1″ thick. The thicker your biscuits are, the more time they’ll need to bake all the way through in the oven. Consider extending the baking time by a few minutes if you’re used to baking thinner biscuits. That way they’ll be perfectly baked in each and every bite. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Jaynie Higgins

    I just love my King Arthur Flour daily inbox. Teaches and stimulates the desire to step up the foodie experience. Visiting one of KAF’s cooking school courses is on my bucket list and hopefully soon. Thank you my King!

    Reply

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