Ham biscuits: A Southern New Year’s tradition – via New England.

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As any good Southern cook knows, ham biscuits are a must-have on New Year’s Eve. AND New Year’s Day.

Or so I’m told, by friends down South. Me, I’m a New Englander through and through and through (except for the part of my heart that still feels a pull for Wisconsin, the state of my birth).

So what could I possibly know about ham biscuits? Or any kind of biscuit, truth be told… Aren’t Southerners the best biscuit bakers on earth?

Truth? Maybe. My Georgia relations turn out biscuits that literally melt in your mouth. I enjoy them (with syrup) every time I’m down in red-clay country.

But I’ve got just as much respect for the biscuit bakers Down East, those no-nonsense wives and mothers I knew from my years in Camden, Maine and environs.

The American Legion in Camden held a family supper every Monday evening, and we’d look forward to that meal all week: the sliced ham and baked chicken, green beans and peas and carrots and corn, mounds of mashed potato with gravy – and biscuits, of course.

Bakewell Cream biscuits. Served with the supper itself, then again afterwards, transformed with strawberries and heavy cream into shortcake.

Bakewell Cream biscuits? Read on…

First, let’s choose our flour. Which should it be for biscuits?

King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose, with its 11.7% protein…

…or King Arthur Perfect Pastry Blend (a.k.a. Mellow Pastry Blend), with its lower protein (10.3%)?

What’s the difference? Lower protein yields softer, more tender biscuits. If you have it, use it. If you don’t, there’s a reason our standard flour is called “all purpose” – by handling the dough gently, King Arthur AP will make beautifully light and tender biscuits.

And what’s this? It’s the Maine biscuit baker’s secret: Original Bakewell Cream. Here’s what the manufacturer, New England Cupboard, says about one of its favorite products:

“Bakewell Cream has been a staple in the cupboards of Maine families for generations. This unique leavening agent was created during wartime shortages in the 1940s as a substitute for cream of tartar. Its creator, Byron Smith of Bangor, Maine, named his mixture ‘Bakewell’ because he found that it did just that – bake well!

With that endorsement, let’s get going and make some “bake well” biscuits.

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment, for easiest cleanup; if you don’t use parchment, there’s no need to grease the sheet.

Place the following ingredients in a mixing bowl:

4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Perfect Pastry Blend
4 teaspoons Original Bakewell Cream*
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon mustard powder, optional
¼ teaspoon onion powder, optional

Whisk to combine.

Add  ½ cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut in small cubes.

Using your fingers, a mixer, a pastry cutter, or a fork, work the butter in until the mixture is crumbly; some larger, pea-sized pieces of butter may remain intact.

Add 1 cup finely diced ham, and 1 cup grated or shredded cheddar cheese.

OK, confession time: I neglected to take photos of the next couple of step. Heat of the moment in the test kitchen… But I did have some standard biscuit pictures on hand, so bear with me here; you won’t see the bits of ham in the next four pictures, so just imagine they’re there.

Add 1 1/2 cups cold milk.

Stir just until everything is moistened. Scrape the dough into the center of the bowl, and knead it gently a few times with your hands.

Your goal is a cohesive ball of dough.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface (a silicone mat works well), and fold it over once or twice.

Pat it into a ¾”-thick circle, a generous 6” in diameter.

Cut the biscuits with a round cutter, making them whatever size you want. I’m using a 2 1/2” cutter here.

Place them on a large ungreased baking sheet.

Want to make easy drop biscuits? Increase the milk to 2 cups.

Scoop the sticky dough in 1/4-cupfuls onto the baking sheet; a muffin scoop works well here.

A little sloppy looking? Here in the test kitchen we call that “rustic.” Or craggy. Perception is everything…

For best rise, I like to chill my biscuits before baking. Tent with plastic, and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Brush the chilled biscuits with milk or melted butter.

Sprinkle with grated or shredded cheese, if desired.

Place the biscuits in the oven, and bake for 6 minutes (yes, this isn’t a typo; just 6 minutes), then turn off the oven.

Leave them in the oven for an additional 7 to 10 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

Remove the biscuits from the oven.

Serve warm, as is, or with butter.

Here’s a rolled and cut biscuit (l) and a drop biscuit (r). Note the difference in height. Their taste is identical, their texture very similar; the drop biscuit is a bit more cake-like; the rolled biscuit, more layered.

And here’s cheese topping (l), vs. plain milk (r). To each his own.

Warm biscuits, wrapped loosely in a towel and served in a basket – this is an absolutely classic breakfast treat, South OR North!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for New Year’s Ham Biscuits.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. martibeth

    I’ve been making Bakewell Cream biscuits for quite a few years now, and they are the best. I used to use Crisco shortening, but lately I’ve been using 1/2 each of butter and lard, and they are amazing. Even more amazing is to add a bit of ground pepper to the basic recipe, use a small (1-1/2-inch cutter), and then while the biscuits are hot out of the oven, split them, and stick a thin slice each of country ham and cheddar cheese, and smear on a bit of apple butter. Amazing. Wish I could take credit for it, but I found the idea in a book by Betty Rosbottom – I think that’s her name. I think the book is called “American Favorites Revisited,” or something like that.

    WOW, that sounds REALLY good – never thought of adding apple butter, and my SIL just gave me a jar for Christmas. Biscuits, here I come! Thanks, MB- PJH

    Reply
  2. Leanne

    yum. So what’s the cream of tartar equivalent to bakewell? Assuming I’m not going to find any at the local grocery store …

    Cream of tartar isn’t exactly equivalent, Leanne, but substitute the same amount – I think it’ll work OK. And if you’re an inveterate biscuit baker, you might want to spring for the Bakewell Cream sometime – it’s just one of those quirky things that seems to add a little something extra to the biscuits… PJH

    Reply
  3. Chrisf U.

    Is there a substitute for the Bakewell Cream? Got everything else I need for these.

    No, there’s no exact substitute. But you could use 2 tablespoons baking powder in place of the Bakewell Cream/baking soda, for a good approximation. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  4. milkwithknives

    Hooray! I just got my first can of Bakewell Cream and haven’t had a chance to open it yet. This photo lesson was just the thing I needed. No pastry flour in the pantry, but I do have a bag of the Hi Maize flour. Maybe that would work just as well. Also, I hope this isn’t a dumb question from a biscuit novice, but has anyone tried to make these with almond milk? I have a dairy allergy and don’t buy regular milk anymore. Or would I be better off with just water, maybe? Thanks so much for all the amazing photos (especially that one with the butter) and detailed directions. I’ll have a go at these and report back.

    Hi – try substituting half the flour with Hi-maize flour to start; and almond milk should work OK. You might want to use less of it, perhaps? Not sure, but thinking it might be a bit thinner than regular milk. Also don’t know how much fat it includes; if it’s very low fat, your biscuits will be tougher. Anyway, I suspect it would be better than water… Let us know how they turn out, OK? PJH

    Reply
  5. argentyne

    I think I’m confused. You said to lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment, but then the biscuit go on an ungreased sheet? What am I doing with the greased one? (Trust me, my imagination can come up with TONS of ideas using a greased one. ;)

    The biscuits look tasty, though and I shall have to try them the next time I am baking regular biscuits. (normally I make biscuit dough, but use it to make sausage and egg rolls for breakfasts. Mmmm, delicious. :D

    I wonder how these would work with bacon bits and rolled around eggs… hmmmm, the hamster has climbed on the wheel… :D

    Yup, you caught me – ungreased it is. I’ll fix it, thanks. Let me know what the hamster comes up with! PJH

    Reply
  6. vibeguy

    @PJH – was this recipe tested as thoroughly as the truffles? I don’t want to deal with an exploding pig, radioactive cheese or getting busted for suspicious white powder in my kitchen.

    *ducking, running*

    E

    The Bakewell Cream Detection Agency, Inc. knows where you live. Step… away… from… the… mixing… bowl… PJH

    Reply
  7. mari10

    Along with any kind of yeast breads including the no knead bread…biscuits somehow elude me too. Tried to make them twice, thrice but it never comes out as puffy as the photos you have. I must be totally mad at it that it always comes out thin! =D But I haven’t given up… I will still give it a try one more time. Please say a prayer for me!

    I’ll say a prayer for you, Mari – with the petition that you’re using King Arthur Flour, and good-quality, fresh baking powder, and handling everything with a gentle hand… :) As for yeast bread: Have you tried our easiest yeast bread, Blitz Bread? Pretty much guaranteed success… PJH

    Reply
  8. elizabethsweger

    So, being dedicated southern baker, I much prefer buttermilk in my biscuits. Can I substitute buttermilk for sweet milk, maybe if I increase the soda?

    I’m not sure how the leaveners are going to react with a more acid liquid. This buttermilk based recipe is very light and very much in the southern tradition: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/best-buttermilk-biscuits-recipe If you need Self-Rising flour, here is the formula: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/self-rising-flour-recipe Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  9. juthurst

    @ mari10…
    in my own experience, you can chill your flour-bakewell-butter mixture in the freezer before adding liquids (I store my biscuit flour in the freezer so that it rises high.) or you can make your biscuits and then freeze them on the baking sheet for 20 minutes before baking, then pop them in the oven and they will rise higher.

    As PJ said, handle gently, but we gently pat out our dough, then fold in half, then pat & fold at least three times to help create layers, and be sure you don’t cut your biscuits too thin…

    of course down here in S. VA we use self rising flour (and while I LOVE KA flour, we have a local fresh ground self rising) and a very thin shaving of country ham on a plain buttered biscuit is what we call “Ham Biscuits”.

    Don’t forget the black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, and greens (turnip, collard & mustard!) so you’ll have good health, good luck and money in the New Year! =D

    Reply
  10. martibeth

    Hope you don’t mind if I answer elizabethsweger’s question re using buttermilk. Most of the time I use buttermilk, and it works out great. You don’t need to increase the soda. If she is using Bakewell Cream, use the recipe on the back of the tin that has the 2:1 ratio of Bakewell Cream to baking soda (e.g., 2 tsp Bakewell Cream and 1 tsp baking soda).

    Thanks, much appreciated – PJH

    Reply
  11. hannahpringle

    So I tried this last night- wow! I didn’t have any bakewells, but reading your article that it was invented as a substitute for cream of tartar, I went with two tsps of baking powder, two tsps of cream of tartar, in addition to the two tsps of baking soda. My biscuits reached for the sky! This was a super fun one to make. I also through in a little vermont cheddar powder for a laugh. I will definitely make these again!

    Reply
  12. fran16250

    I purchased the bakewell cream from KAF awhile ago and have been making the receipe on the can ever since. I would never bake biscuits any other way. They are so high and light it is amazing. I did have a problem with them getting a little too dark. I have a convection oven and thought that might be the problem so I backed the oven temp down to 425 degrees and that seemed to do the trick. Can’t wait to try this version with the ham and cheese. I think I might just make them to serve with sloppy joes tonight.
    Ditto on the greatness of these biscuits. And I had the same problem while using a conventional oven where the bottoms darkened. I now use 2 sheet pans for a buffer. No problem now! Elisabeth

    Reply
  13. fran16250

    Elisabeth,
    I did make these last night for my sloppy joes. I used grated cheese, some mustard powder, cracked pepper and your tip for the double cookie sheet. Worked like a charm. I also have a biscuit cutter I got some years ago from KAF, it cuts 6 biscuits at a time, what a snap! I served them open faced with sloppy joe meat on top. Yum! the others in my house did not like them with sloppy joe so we used the leftovers for ham and egg and cheese biscuits for breakfast this morning. Now, they are a big hit!

    Reply
  14. kaf-sub-jvannierop

    I moved down to Florida in 1979 and took my stock of Bakewell Cream with me. I soon made friends with an older southern lady whom introduced me to her secret of using low protein flours (martha white and white lilly) for making Biscuits the Southern way. I combined the two and make very light and tall buttermilk biscuits. I purchased some KAF pastry flour but have not tried using it for biscuits. My in-laws from MA keep me in Bakewell cream during their winter visits here in FL.

    Reply
  15. sandralouisekelly

    Wow!!!!These look amazing! I’m new to commenting but not to KAF. I love you guys! You have changed what I do as a home baker. I’ve recently started making more GF baked goods, and the biscuits I plan on doing for Valentine’s Day, are going to be Gluten Free. The question I have is on higher rises. Does the same apply to Gluten Free biscuits? I haven’t tried but was curious if you guys had?

    Yes, Sandra, it applies to GF as well, but the difference probably won’t be as great; GF in general has more trouble rising due to lack of gluten… Good luck with them- PJH

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, you can freeze your well-wrapped biscuits. Please reheat them in a 325 degree oven until they are warm. ~Jaydl@KAF

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