How to bake the best biscuits: simple steps to success

Baking powder biscuits. Are they on your baking bucket list? You know, the list of things you haven’t… quite… nailed yet? They are indeed; biscuits, pie crust, and yeast bread finished top-three in a recent Facebook survey of our readers’ most challenging (and most desired) techniques/recipes to master. How to bake the best biscuits? Read on.

Choose a good recipe

For a treat with such simple ingredients — flour, fat, liquid, salt, and baking powder — biscuit recipes come in an amazing number of incarnations. How do you choose? Where do you start?

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

I’ll make it simple for you: start right here, with our Baking Powder Biscuits recipe. It’s classic, it makes delicious, tender biscuits, and thousands of our readers love it. Witness this recent review:

“I have tried so many biscuit recipes over the last few years trying to find ‘The One’. This is it! My search is over. I’ve made these 4 times now (twice as biscuits, and twice in a biscuits and gravy casserole) and they have been perfect each time… I am so happy to have found ‘The One’!!” — JennaVee, Houston

Use top-quality ingredients

You wouldn’t make the best pizza ever from a frozen crust and canned mushrooms, would you? Neither will you make superb biscuits using inferior ingredients.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Flour: We love our King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour for biscuits. Its medium protein level (11.7%) yields biscuits that are perfectly tender, yet still possess enough structure to rise up rather than flatten out or slump over as they bake.

There are those who swear by Southern-style “soft” flours for their biscuits; think White Lily. And that’s perfectly fine. Got a White Lily recipe you love? Stick with it. But if you’re still seeking your own version of “the best” biscuits, take our advice: use all-purpose flour. Or, for gluten-free biscuits, our Measure for Measure flour.

Fat: We know you can make great biscuits with either lard or vegetable shortening, two uber-traditional biscuit fats. But we’re sticking with our favorite biscuit fat: butter. It’s got great flavor and browns biscuits better than other fats. It also makes biscuits rise a bit higher, thanks to the slight amount of steam (butter is 10% water) it produces as it melts.

And we’re not just whistling Dixie. My fellow blogger, Kye, did the tests to prove butter’s worth: see her post, Fats and liquids in biscuits: choosing your favorite texture (where she’ll also tell you why buttermilk is her favorite biscuit liquid).

How to bake the best biscuits? Quality ingredients and a gentle hand are your keys to success. Click To Tweet

Baking powder: Whatever brand double-acting baking powder you use, make sure it’s fresh. How? Combine 1/2 teaspoon of your baking powder with 2 tablespoons warm water. If it doesn’t foam, it’s no good; buy a new can.

Salt: Use extra-fine or table salt, not kosher or coarse sea salt. The typical stiff biscuit dough doesn’t include enough liquid to readily dissolve kosher or other coarse-grained salts.

Liquid: You have a choice here; several liquids/semi-solids make decent biscuits, including non-dairy milk and Greek yogurt. But for the best combination of flavor and texture, I like plain whole milk (or a combination of half buttermilk for flavor, half heavy cream for added tenderness); and Kye prefers straight buttermilk.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

How to make the best biscuits? Chill.

When making biscuits, what you DON’T do is perhaps more important than what you do. Namely: don’t beat up your dough! Use just enough strokes of your spoon (or time in your stand mixer) to turn flour/butter and liquid into a cohesive dough — no more. The more you handle biscuit dough, the tougher your resulting biscuits will be.

Even though you’re super-careful not to overmix your dough, you’re still going to develop its gluten somewhat; that’s just the nature of mixing flour with liquid. But if you chill your pan of biscuits in the fridge before baking, not only will the gluten relax (yielding more tender biscuits), the butter will harden up. And the longer it takes the butter to melt as the biscuits bake, the more chance they have to rise high and maintain their shape.

So, chill… and chill.

Baking Powder Biscuits

Gather your ingredients:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar 
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 to 1 1/8 cups cold milk*

*Substitute buttermilk, light cream, or heavy cream for the whole milk, if you prefer; use enough of whatever liquid you choose to bring the dough together readily, without you having to work it too much. The higher-fat liquid you use, the more tender and richer-tasting your biscuits will be.  

First, get out a baking sheet; there’s no need to grease it. Line it with parchment if you like, for easiest cleanup.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.

Mix the dry ingredients

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.

Can you omit the sugar? Yes. Your biscuits may taste a tiny bit “flat,” and they probably won’t brown quite as well.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers, a fork or pastry blender, a stand mixer, or a food processor; your goal is an evenly crumbly mixture (think breadcrumbs). Since the butter is at room temperature, this should be fairly simple to do.

“Wait a minute! I’d always heard the butter for biscuits should be ice cold. What’s up with this room-temperature butter?”

Unlike pie crust, where cold butter actually helps create the crust’s flakiness, biscuits don’t require this treatment.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

While biscuits do still show distinct layers — which some perceive as “flakiness” — these layers come more from a couple of folds we give the dough prior to shaping, rather than from ice-cold shards of butter.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Add liquid

Drizzle the smaller amount of milk evenly over the flour mixture.

Stir together

Mix quickly and gently for about 15 seconds, until you’ve made a cohesive dough. If the mixture seems dry and won’t come together, don’t keep working it; drizzle in enough milk — up to an additional 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) to make it cohesive.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Pat and roll

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a rough rectangle about 3/4″ thick. Fold it into thirds like a letter. 

Turn the dough 90°, and gently roll it with a floured rolling pin into a circle or rough rectangle about 3/4″ thick.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Cut with care

Cut the dough into circles with a biscuit cutter; a 2 3/8″ cutter is a nice size for traditional round biscuits. Or to avoid leftover dough scraps, cut the dough into squares or diamonds with a bench knife or sharp knife.

However you cut the dough, be absolutely sure to use a sharp cutter (not a drinking glass), and cut it all the way around — which means trimming the dough’s edges if you’re cutting squares or triangles. Avoid the squashed-down edges of the rolled-out dough at all costs!

Do you know what happens if your biscuits don’t have clean-cut edges?

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

This!

For more on the art of biscuit-cutting, see our post, How to make high-rising biscuits.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Chill

Place the biscuits bottom side up on your prepared baking sheet; turning them over like this yields biscuits with nice, smooth tops. Brush the biscuits with milk, to enhance browning.

Place the pan of biscuits in the refrigerator while you preheat your oven to 425°F, or for about 20 to 30 minutes. This short chill will help the biscuits maintain their shape while baking.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Bake

Bake the chilled biscuits for about 20 minutes; remember to use an upper rack in your oven to promote browning.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Remove the biscuits from the oven when they’re lightly browned. Break one open; it should be fully baked inside, with no doughiness in the center.

How to bake the best biscuits via @kingarthurflour

Enjoy!

Split, butter, and serve warm. 

Are biscuits on your bucket list? Check ’em off!

How to bake the best biscuits: your takeaways

•Start with a good recipe
•Use quality ingredients, optimally fresh if perishable (milk, butter, baking powder)
Handle dough gently and minimally
•Cut biscuits with a sharp cutter; no twisting 
Space close together on the baking sheet
•For optimum brownness, brush with milk and bake on an upper rack
Serve hot!

Now that you’ve learned how to make classic baking powder biscuits — see how to make Never-Fail Biscuits: our one-bowl, two-ingredient, stir-together version of this American classic.

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. heather

    best biscuits evr simple and easy for this southen gal to make goes good with gravvuy or jam or just by themselves thanls for the great recipe……

    Reply
  2. Ann

    Love the tutorial & these will be my first non-pillsbury pop & fresh biscuits.

    The one thing that would help me is to have a print recipe button on this page. Thanks KA – Love your stuff!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you’d like to, sure, Beth! It should be a 1:1 swap with butter. They won’t brown very much if at all, but will taste nicely savory. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Joanne, you can absolutely do that! As long as they stay chilled overnight, they should be just fine. You can even pop them in the freezer and bake them from frozen if you want, just add a couple of extra minutes to your baking time if you do. Kat@KAF

  3. Tom

    Was hoping for a go to biscuit formula. Something that made sense and was easy. This formula checked those boxes. I liked the room temp butter and the fold of the dough. The refrigerator rest also was appealing. They came out nice and tender and brown but very little rise to them. Checked my baking powder according to the tip in the instructions and it foamed up quickly and nicely. Not sure what to do with a dozen flat biscuits.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re sorry to hear that your biscuits came out flat, Tom. We’d love to help. Could you walk us through how you measure your flour and how you cut your biscuits? Both of these play big factors in biscuit rising and having a few details would be helpful for us. Annabelle@KAF

    2. Tom

      Hello Annabelle. For this recipe I used a one cup dry measuring cup leveled with the flat side of a butter knife. I cut using a round cutter with a downward motion with no twisting.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the details, Tom! It sounds like the cutting method is spot on with no twisting. We have a feeling that the culprit was the measuring cup. Flour just loves to pack itself down in measuring cups and just an ounce or two extra in each cup can soak up too much moisture, leaving the baked goods unable to rise properly. Measuring by weight is the most accurate, quickest way to measure. For ideal measurement accuracy when not using a scale, we recommend fluffing the flour with a whisk or spoon, sprinkling it into the measuring cup, and scraping off the excess. We hope this helps for your next batch and for any future King Arthur Flour recipes. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Tyler! Sugar is there mainly for flavor, but it also aids in browning. Feel free to leave it out to see how you enjoy the flavor without it. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Anne Carville

    Is it possible to freeze the cut out biscuits and bake later? Would love to just be able to make ahead and pull out a few at a time for my husband and I.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Absolutely, Anne! You can freeze sliced biscuits for up to 3 months and bake them right from the freezer. They’ll take a couple of extra minutes to bake, but brush them with egg wash right out of the freezer and you’ll have freshly baked biscuits in no time. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Mia H

    Biscuits are always a struggle for me! I’ve never made a truly good one. My grandmother made amazing biscuits (and pretty much everything else), but she eyeballed everything. I don’t even know if she owned measuring cups! I’m excited to give the baking powder biscuits a try later this week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Best of luck, Mia – I think you’ll make your grandmother proud! PJH@KAF

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