Drop biscuits vs. roll out biscuits: I’m going to assume (and forgive me if I’m wrong) that you’ve never made biscuits from scratch. I don’t remember my mom or grandmom making scratch biscuits very often, so I think it’s fair to say that this is one of those foods that most people buy in a can =)
There are two basic kinds of biscuits: drop biscuits and roll out biscuits. Drop biscuits are the easiest – you mix up the dough and then drop it into biscuit-sized clumps on your baking sheet. Roll-out biscuits require a few more steps.
After you mix up the dough, you have to roll it out on a floured surface. Then you use a biscuit cutter or knife to cut the dough into circles or squares. Once that’s done, you move the cut biscuits to the baking sheet and proceed in the same manner as you would with drop biscuits, i.e. you bake them.
The only other difference between drop biscuits and roll-out biscuits is the amount of liquid in the recipe. Drop biscuits use a wetter dough, so that they will drop. And roll-out biscuits use a dryer dough, so that the dough is manageble when you’re rolling it out.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ll move on to more advanced biscuit topics.
Can you make flaky GF biscuits? As a kid, I loved the flaky, layered Pillsbury biscuits. My brother and I would peel off each layer and eat them one by one. While you’ll be hard-pressed to replicate that level of flakiness without an industrial machine, you can make your own delicious flaky biscuits at home.
The secret to flaky biscuits is in how you mix the fat into the flour. To get the flakes, you leave the fat pieces rather large and then roll the dough out. But, rather than going straight to cutting biscuits, you fold the dough into thirds, rather like you would fold a letter before putting it into the envelope.
Then you roll the dough out some more, and fold it into thirds again. The folding action builds long, thin layers of fat into your biscuit dough. Then, when the biscuits cook, the fat vaporizes and leaves a thin, flat, empty section between two pieces of cooked biscuits…. a layer!
More biscuit secrets…. Do you know why biscuits rise when you bake them? It’s because of the baking powder or baking soda that’s mixed into the flour.
If you’re accustomed to making biscuits from self-rising wheat flour or Bisquick, then it’s easy to forget about the leavening because the manufacturer has already mixed it in for you. But we gluten free cooks need to mix it in ourselves.
Southern biscuit makers swear by White Lily self-rising flour. That particular brand of flour includes approximately 1.5 tsp of baking powder per cup of flour. So, that’s the guideline that I use when I’m developing my biscuit recipes.
The biscuit recipe that I’ll be giving you tomorrow uses about 4 cups of flour, so it needs 6 tsp. of baking powder (1.5 times 4). However, since I use buttermilk (or the casein-free equivalent), I replace some of the baking powder with baking soda. One teaspoon of baking powder = 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, so you’ll see in the recipe that I use 4 tsp. of baking powder plus 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.
It’s not an exercise in precision. The few times that I did see my mom make scratch biscuits, I was always impressed because she didn’t measure the liquids. She just poured the buttermilk in, straight from the carton. When I would ask, “How do you know how much to use?” should we reply, “I just do”.
Now, after years of making my own biscuits from scratch, I completely understand. The amount of liquids that you need in a biscuit dough can vary quite a bit. We’ve already discussed how the liquid amounts differ in drop-biscuits and roll-out biscuits.
But even if you just look at roll-out biscuit recipes you’ll find a good bit of variation. The important thing is to add the liquids gradually until you get the dough to the consistency that you want to work with…and the consistency that makes biscuits that you like.
You can figure this out by experimentation, or by watching someone else make gluten free biscuits. (I could insert a shameless plug for my gluten free biscuit cooking class here, but I won’t!)
Ingredient choices: Here are a few, unrelated, thoughts on ingredient substitutions. The fat that you use in a biscuit is important. The best choices are solid fats, like butter or shortening. I generally use butter (or Earth Balance sticks), but I prefer shortening. Shortening makes the outside of the biscuit just shatter in your mouth…just like it does in a good pie crust. I particularly recommend it for flaky biscuits.
Coconut oil is not a good choice, because the melting point it too low and the fat will just run out of your biscuits before the dough sets. You can make biscuits with liquid oils, like olive oil, but the texture will be different than if you used butter or shortening.
Biscuits, unlike pancakes and cookies, do need a binding agent of some sort or they will be extremely crumbly. I prefer xanthan gum. I’ve experimented with guar gum in my biscuits recipes and they’re still more crumbly than I would like – even whey I double the amount of guar gum (in comparison to xanthan gum).
If you can’t use eggs, then try a flax egg or egg replacement powder. Either will work. I’ve tried both and liked both =)
You can use water, rather than milk. Or use half water/half milk. Milk adds richness and tenderness, but if you want biscuits, and you’re out of milk/buttermilk, just go ahead with water. I promise…..it will be fine =)
– Mary Frances