Flaky biscuits melt in the mouth. Unlike other quick breads such as loaves, muffins, or pancakes, biscuits are made from a soft dough rather than a more fluid batter. Properly made, they stand tall and straight, with a flat top, a crisp, tender crust that is a rich, golden brown, and sides that are lighter in color. The interior is creamy, with a fine, moist, fluffy grain that pulls apart in thin sheets. Biscuits are best when warm and fresh from the oven. Plan to serve them as soon as possible after baking.
Like all quick breads, biscuits require very little time to assemble. Fat, whether shortening, butter, or margarine, is worked in with a wire pastry cutter, as with pie pastry, until the mixture is crumbly, like coarse cornmeal. The fat particles melt during baking, creating flaky layers and also steam that gives biscuits an upward boost.
Biscuit dough should be kneaded with a light touch, but donít undermix it for fear of making a tough bread. Kneading develops structure and also disperses the leavening; insufficient kneading may result in yellow spots in the crumb and brown spots on the crust, a sign that the leavening was not fully distributed. The goal is to make a smooth, cohesive mass.
Cutting in Shortening
Place the dry ingredients and shortening, butter, or margarine in a medium bowl. Blend together by working the mixture with the wire tines of a pastry blender to whittle the fat into tiny flakes and to create a mixture that is the consistency of coarse cornmeal or crumbs.
Sprinkle a work surface lightly with flour. Turn the dough out of the bowl. Bring the far end of the dough mass up and toward you; press down and forward with the heel of your hand. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat.
Shaping with Cutter
The dough should be evenly thick, about 1/2 inch. Dip a 2 1/2-inch round cutter in flour and press straight down into the dough. Use cutters that have sharp edges or they wonít cut cleanly.
Cutting Other Shapes
Divide a large square of dough into 9 even squares by cutting it in thirds from top to bottom, then cutting it in thirds again from side to side. For bars, cut each square in half; for triangles, cut the square in half diagonally.