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. Barby

    I have discovered a trick just recently – and adopted it to go a few steps farther. Pat out the dough into a rectangle. The thickness is not crucial yet but pat only to about 3/4 inch or an inch. Fold in one end of the rectangle onto the dough, along the short edge, then fold the other side in – you are folding in thirds. I know I am not explaining this well but hopefully you get the gist of it. Now turn it 90 degrees, pat it out again into a rectangle and repeat the folding. Think how you fold a paper to fit in an envelope. I saw a recipe that instructed you to do it twice. It is this step that helps to get the flaky layers. note this is NOT kneading. Treat the dough gently. You don’t want to develop the gluten in it. What I discovered is that doing it a few times is not really enough – so the entire 1/3 folding and 90 degree turn procedure about 6 or 7 times. I just cut mine into squares but will try the edge trimming technique next time! Rolling it out on my KAF silicone mat helps a lot too – be careful with the sharp knife on it but I find I use a lot less flour to pat them out which is good too. I also have been sticking the prepared and cut biscuits in the freezer for 30 minutes too. After slathering the tops with butter of course! Then take them out of the freezer and right into the pre-heated oven. The recipe i found online that got me on my biscuit quest was for scallions and cheese biscuits. In addition to adding the scallions and shredded cheddar when preparing the dough – put each biscuit on a small heap of shredded cheese and bake. Makes a WONDERFUL crunchy cheese layer on the bottom. Best to use parchment paper too to bake.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There’s a perfect one linked right under the photo of this blog, Mary, and it’s very ready to be baked and enjoyed! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Pat Reynolds

    I bake my biscuits in an Iron frying pan and they come out perfect . Have never thrown away any in my life we have them toasted with butter or peanut butter and jelly for a quick lunch .

    Reply
  3. Maureen E. Donovan

    Sometimes I like to bake my biscuits to the crispy stage. Don’t say “Oh no!” Something happens when they get crispy and the are to die for.

    Reply
  4. Maureen E. Donovan

    I love biscuits so much.. with butter and strawberry jam. My sister says that biscuits are NOT a meal. I beg to differ. She also says that I am going to turn into a biscuit. That’s okay.

    Reply
  5. Gloria Little

    I just love PJHamel’s postings and tips. If I see her name, I stop right then and read. I so appreciate KAF’s experiments with the best way to do things. I don’t have the time or knowledge to know why my biscuits don’t raise up. Or whether I should use butter or shortening or both. Thanks KAF!

    Reply

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