A Biscuit Experiment

No video this week, but as a consolation prize, I did a little experiment. I made biscuits. Lots and lots of biscuits. Specifically, I made biscuits with three different types of flour: Gold Medal All-Purpose, White Lily All-Purpose, and King Arthur Cake Flour. The goal was to see how other types of flour compared to the elusive White Lily flour. Many people believe that it is impossible to make good biscuits in the Northern United States because our all-purpose flour has more protein than the Southern equivalent. I wanted to see if this belief is actually true. I went into this experiment believing that the best results would come from the White Lily flour. My hope was that the cake flour would provide a suitable substitute.

Some background: Biscuits really weren’t much of a presence in my childhood. Neither Mom nor Grandma regularly made biscuits, but I do love them. Every time I’m traveling and see biscuits on the menu, I order them. I’ve had good biscuits and bad biscuits, and I am confident in my ability to tell the difference between them.

There were a few bumps in my pursuit of the perfect biscuit. The first four batches of biscuits were accidentally made with the heavy whipping cream that I bought for making ricotta instead of buttermilk. They tasted delicious, and the flours basically behaved the same. The flavor of the biscuits was good, but it lacked some of the depth that buttermilk provides. I probably could have posted those results, but I was worried about the integrity of the experiment and how the heavy whipping cream would affect the results.

The next two batches were also discarded because I discovered that the measuring spoons I used were actually Imperial measurements rather than US measurements. I have no clue why my parents had Imperial measuring spoons. New measuring spoons were procured along with some additional Gold Medal flour because I ran out.

The next three batches are the ones I’m actually going to assess below.

The procedure: I used the same recipe for all batches (linked in the comments). After combining the dry ingredients in a food processor, I added the cold, cubed butter and pulsed the food processor seven times. This insured that the butter would remain in fairly large chunks thus producing a flakey biscuit. After adding the buttermilk, I blended the mixture in the food processor for five more seconds before completing the incorporation of the ingredients by hand. I used the food processor for the initial incorporation because I wanted to avoid melting the butter with my warm hands. I rolled out the dough to 1/2″ thick and then folded it in thirds onto itself (this also helps to make the biscuits flakey).

I used a weird biscuit cutter that didn’t cut the whole way to the bottom of the biscuit, so my cuts ended up looking a bit rough, especially from the bottom, as you will see. All of the biscuits were brushed with buttermilk before baking.

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The results:
img_5879Gold Medal, unbleached white all-purpose flour. The biscuits were flakey and had a higher rise than the other two batches. They were also darker, and the interior was almost a creamy yellow rather than pure white. The biscuits were not dense, but the interior texture was slightly breadier. The outside had a pleasant, slight crunch

 

 

img_5880White Lily, all-purpose flour. The biscuits were flakey but spread slightly outwards instead of upwards, thus the final biscuit was slightly shorter than the Gold Medal biscuit (this was consistent across all three batches of White Lily biscuits – including the two batches that were discarded). The texture was soft and slightly cakey. The biscuits were very pale when they came out of the oven, even though they were thoroughly cooked. The inside was also paler than the other batches.

 

img_5881King Arthur unbleached cake flour. The biscuits were almost a combination of the White Lily biscuits and Gold Medal biscuits. They were flakey, but did not rise as tall as the Gold Medal biscuits. They also did not spread as much as the White Lily biscuits or as little as the Gold Medal biscuits. The biscuits were lighter than the Gold Medal but not as light as the White Lily. The interior texture was slightly cakey, but not quite as cakey as the White Lily biscuits. The exterior had a pleasant, slight crunch, but the bottom was a little tough.

 

After trying each of the biscuits, we all disagreed which one was best. Adam and I thought the Gold Medal biscuits were the best. April liked the White Lily biscuits. Dad preferred the cake flour (King Arthur). The cake flour was the least favorite of April and me. Adam thought that the cake flour and White Lily were equally good, but not as good as the Gold Medal.

Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference.

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The bottoms of the three biscuits

 

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Episode 2: Flaky Biscuits from Microwave Cooking for One (1986)

In this mini-episode, I make Flaky Biscuits with a recipe from the book Microwave Cooking for One.  While making biscuits, I talk about the science of flaky, golden brown biscuits.

This recipe called for some specialized equipment in order to achieve a golden brown exterior.  I found my Corning Microwave Browning Skillet on ebay, but I have seen them at thrift stores and yard sales.  The Microwave Cooking for One website talks at length about the Browning Skillet: https://www.microwavecookingforone.com/Charts/Browner.html

The technological advantage that Corning’s Microwave Browning Skillet has over other microwave cooking vessels is its heat conductive coating on the bottom.  Pictures of my browning skillet can be seen below.  The grey area on the bottom is the special coating to help promote browning.

 

The skillet did promote browning; although, the browning was uneven and the quality was not nearly as high as I could have achieved in the oven.  At least the biscuits were flaky.

On the mess scale, this recipe was not terrible.  Aside from a few measuring cups, I only dirtied one bowl, a microplaner, the countertop, a fork, 3 mise-en-place bowls, a biscuit cutter, and the Browning Skillet.  Definitely less of a mess than last week.