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. 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

    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

    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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

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