Battle of the Biscuits: simple vs. traditional. And the winner is...

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No brag, just fact: I’m a good yeast bread baker.

Not Jeffrey Hamelman great; but pretty darned good. James Beard hooked me with Beard on Bread about 35 years ago, and I’ve been practicing regularly ever since.

So you’d think, having mastered yeast bread, baking something as simple as a biscuit would be – well, a piece of cake for me.

HA!

Tough biscuits, tasteless biscuits, biscuits whose acrid baking soda flavor made my mouth pucker. Biscuits that never browned (how is that even possible?) Biscuits that flattened into nubbly puddles. I mean, if anything can go wrong with a biscuit – I’ve been there.

Those unhappy days are gone, though – since I discovered Never-Fail Biscuits.

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Self-rising flour. Heavy cream. End of story.

I mean, it’s impossible to mess up a recipe with two ingredients, right?

Still, a little voice in the back of my brain kept nagging, “Those can’t possibly be as good as REAL biscuits. You know, the kind where you work the butter into the flour, add milk, roll out the dough, cut it with a cutter… the kind REAL bakers make.”

So I decided to put my new best friend, Never-Fail Biscuits, to the test: Let’s see how they stack up against our Bakewell Cream Biscuits, a classic work-in-the-butter, roll-the-dough recipe.

Simple Never-Fail Biscuits vs. Traditional Bakewell Cream Biscuits – we’ll go nine rounds here, then crown a winner. Let the Battle of the Biscuits begin!

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Round 1: ingredients.

Bakewell Cream Biscuits use six ingredients.

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Never-Fail Biscuits: 2 ingredients.

Round 1 winner: Never-Fail Biscuits.

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Round 2: Preparation.

Bakewell Cream Biscuits require four steps to prepare the dough:

•mix the flour/leavening;
•cut up the butter;
•work in the butter;
•stir in the milk.

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Never-Fail Biscuits, just one step:

•stir the cream into the flour.

Round 2 winner: Never-Fail Biscuits.

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Round 3: Biscuit formation.

Bakewell Cream Biscuits require four steps:

•fold the dough over on itself several times;
•roll/pat it into a 3/4”-thick round;
•cut biscuits with a cutter;
•re-roll and cut the scraps.

IMG_7984Never-Fail Biscuits require 1 step:

•scoop the dough into balls.

Round 3 winner: Never-Fail Biscuits.

Wait just a minute; the judges are conferring…

Patting/rolling/cutting the Never-Fail biscuit dough results in a more traditionally shaped (flatter-topped) biscuit. If you go this route, we’ll call Round 3 a draw.

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Round 4: Baking.

Bakewell Cream Biscuits (top) bake in a 475°F oven for 5 minutes, then rest in the turned-off oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

Never-Fail Biscuits (bottom) bake in a 450°F oven for 10 minutes.

Round 4 winner: Draw.

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Round 5: Appearance.

Bakewell Cream Biscuits (right) brown better than Never-Fail Biscuits (left).

Round 5 winner: Bakewell Cream Biscuits.

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Round 6: Rise.

Left to right, you see Never-Fail scooped biscuits; Bakewell Cream Biscuits; and Never-Fail cut biscuits. I’d say there’s no appreciable difference in rise.

Round 6 winner: Draw.

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Round 7: Taste.

Very similar taste; Bakewell Cream Biscuits were a tiny bit saltier, probably due to the baking soda.

Round 7 winner: Draw.

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Round 8: Texture.

Both biscuits were equally delightful hot out of the oven: crisp outside, steamy/soft inside. As they cooled, Never-Fail Biscuits retained their soft texture; while Bakewell Cream Biscuits firmed up a bit. Neither held onto their crisp crust.

By the following day both biscuits had hardened just slightly, with Bakewell Cream Biscuits becoming harder than Never-Fail Biscuits, though both were still perfectly acceptable served at room temperature. And rewarming them in the oven brought both of them close to their fresh-baked texture.

Round 8 winner: Draw.

Hold on, the judge is calling a timeout –

Look closely at the two biscuits above. See the single horizontal fault line in the Never-Fail Biscuits, and the multiple horizontal lines in the Bakewell Cream Biscuits? This difference provides a vital clue to the winner of our final round.

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Round 9: Versatility.

Making shortcake? Ah, here’s the biggest difference between these two biscuits. Never-Fail Biscuits (left) crumble when you try to split them in half for shortcake. Bakewell Cream Biscuits (right) split easily along their “layer line.”

Round 9 winner: Bakewell Cream Biscuits.

Biscuits, join the referee (that would be me) in the center of the ring – er, kitchen. The judges are tallying up the score. And the winner is:

Never-Fail Biscuits – by a crumb!

But only if you scoop them. If you like cutting your biscuits with a cutter, then it’s a perfect draw: 2 rounds to Never-Fail Biscuits, 2 rounds to Bakewell Cream Biscuits, and 5 rounds ending in a draw.

Recap: If you’re into ease of preparation and simplicity of ingredients, Never-Fail Biscuits are your choice.

If you enjoy whisking together ingredients, working butter into flour, adding milk, stirring GENTLY, rolling or patting dough into a round, and using your biscuit cutter – in other words, if you’re comfortable with the classic biscuit process – then go ahead and stick with your favorite traditional biscuit recipe, like our Bakewell Cream Biscuits.

Bottom line: everyone wins.

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Most of all the lucky recipients of your tender, tasty biscuits!

Want to wage your own Battle of the Biscuits? Pit our Never-Fail Biscuits against your own favorite recipe. And may the best biscuit win!

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. Janet

    I am game for giving these a try – would buttermilk work for the heavy cream? I always have some in the freezer.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      No, Janet – buttermilk is generally nonfat, and these biscuits derive their wonderful texture from full-fat heavy cream. I purchase a half-pint of heavy cream, which will yield 16 small biscuits or 8 large biscuits, at my local store for $1.69, so it’s actually not much of an investment – considering the return! PJH

    2. Sarah

      I’d like to respectfully disagree. I make a traditional homemade biscuit very similar to the Bakewell Cream recipe (flour, baking powder, salt, butter, milk.) I recently switched from milk to buttermilk and WOW it’s awesome. They have a soft texture, and the best part is……they stay soft! That means my day-old leftover biscuits are not little hockey pucks.
      I wonder what the science behind it would say? All I know is that my kids and husband say WOW BISCUITS!!!

    3. hcm

      I have to reply to this post.

      I believe that the buttermilk works in the traditional recipe because you have fat from the butter/shortening, and I’ve even used yogurt and found I had a softer crumb biscuit.

      I think in the never fail version you need the fat from the cream, although I wouldn’t be past subbing in buttermilk for some of the heavy cream.

    4. Elaine

      I believe PJ was saying you can’t use buttermilk in the never-fail biscuits. Traditional style biscuits derive fat from the butter, not just the milk so substituting buttermilk won’t change the texture.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Wendy- That is a good question. I have not heard of a gluten-free self rising flour, but you could make your own up by making a mix of 1 cup of GF flour with 1.5 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. However, I wouldn’t recommend substituting that in for regular self-rising flour, as I feel you may not have great results with just that substitution alone. Happy baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  2. Cristy

    Wondering if you painted melted butter or milk on top of the fail if they would brown like the Bakewells. I’ll have to give these a try.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Cristy-
      You certainly could use milk, cream, or an egg wash on top of the biscuits (brushed on right before the bake) to help them brown up nicely for you in the oven. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  3. Catherine Rojas

    The key to not having tough biscuits is not handling the dough too much.

    Buttermilk biscuits:
    3 cups King Arthur APF
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tbls to 1/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like them)
    1/2 cup unsalted butter very cold and cubed
    1/3 cup shortening very cold
    1 1/2 cups buttermilk
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees
    Mix all dry ingredients then cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or fork. Add buttermilk and mix just until moist. Turn out dough onto a well floured board and sprinkle some flour on top. Flatten and shape at sides to 1/2 inch. Cut dough with a biscuit cutter. Bake on un-greased cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes. This dough freezes well. Bake right out of the freezer with just a few extra minutes. Tender in the inside and crisp on the outside. and they are still great the next day.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you so much for sharing Catherine, and handling your dough as little as possible definitely will help to keep them nice and tender. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Christi- As a general rule, you can substitute 1 cup AP flour + 1.5 teaspoons baking powder + 1/4 teaspoon salt in place of 1 cup of self-rising flour. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Skyren-
      You certainly could freeze these! I have copied the freezing instructions from the recipe’s main page for your information: “To make now, serve later, place shaped/unbaked biscuits close together on a small baking sheet; place the sheet in the freezer, and freeze until solid. Transfer the biscuits to an airtight container (plastic bag, etc.) When you’re ready to serve, there’s no need to thaw the biscuits; remove them from the freezer and bake as directed above, adding a few minutes to the baking time.” Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  4. AnneMarie

    I’m going with the Never-Fail as a clear winner. Bakewell’s recipe always gives me heartburn and are far too much work for the saltiness and bite to them.

    Although you do get the split in the middle and texture with the never-fail recipe if you pat and roll them, then cut them instead of dropping them. I pat a giant square, use my sharpest ceramic long knife, trim off the rounded side edges, and cut into square biscuits. The trimmings allow the sides to rise high, and they get cooked along side the biscuits as snacks to keep hungry waiting teenagers out of the main show ring until supper. We call them biscuit snakes.

    I also like the more mild flavor of the never-fail. It is easier to add flavorings to: cheddar and garlic and brushed with butter at the end of baking, pizza seasoning and pepperoni and cheese bits, maple flavoring bits, cinnabits, blueberries, nuts…..get the idea?!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I don’t see why you couldn’t use a sweetened version of these biscuits to top a cobbler! It should be quite delicious. Jon@KAF

  5. Connie Kent

    One of the best ways to make light and fluffy biscuits is the way I found out about in 1999 just before Y2K. It is called the sponge method and I use it all the time and I never have any trouble. My biscuits turn out light and fluffy every time. I would be glad to share it if you would be interested. It will be coming out in my new cookbook Connie’s Aloha Country Way Vegan cookbook. I am looking forward to your upcoming ideas! Have a great day in the Lord.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Be sure to send along a link when the book comes out Connie, we’d love to take a look. She who has the most cookbooks wins, right? ~ MJ

  6. Leeds Brewer

    My Grandmother taught me a great trick for shortbread biscuits. I roll the dough to approximately ½ the desired thickness and cut the biscuits with a drinking glass. Place half the total number of desired rounds on a cookie sheet and put a thin pat of butter on each. Then, cover with a second round and bake as usual. The result is an easily separated biscuit with a little extra hit of butter added to the shortcake flavor.

    Reply
  7. David Earls

    The Never Fails look tasty, but they don’t have those tender, flaky layers that great biscuits have. For tender, you need buttermilk, and for flakiness, you use a combination of lard and butter. The more butter, the more flavor; the more lard, the more flakiness.

    On the KA site (also on YouTube), there’s a video on pie crust making where you turn the dough out onto parchment paper, and use the paper to do multiple folds. Those folds turn into flaky layers when the biscuits come out of the oven if you use the same technique.

    One last thing. If you roll or press the dough out into a sheet, you can cut the dough with a biscuit cutter. This gives you the clean edge that lets the layers separate during baking.

    OK, OK, I’ve been obsessing over biscuits for 40 years…

    Reply
  8. Larry

    I can’t see where your Never Fail biscuit has raised enough to be a biscuit. You sure don’t have enough biscuit to make a good sausage, cheese and egg muffin .Your bakewell cream isn’t all that good and does not always work as it should.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Biscuits that are a softer drop dough (or scooped with a spoon or portion scoop) may not show the layers that a soft dough (rolled and cut biscuit) will. We love the discussion that biscuits generate – they are the food of family legend and fraught with expectations! Happy Baking to all – Irene@KAF

  9. David Lacy

    I have made biscuits both ways – with self-rise flour & cream and the typical, cut-in-the-butter style. Far as I am concerned they are both great if you treat the dough right.
    Quick question, though. Is the salt necessary for the biscuits? I have a wife that is on a low/no-salt diet for medical reasons and need to know if I can cut out or reduce the salt in biscuits & yeast or sourdough bread. I generally use about a quarter of the salt for any recipe or maybe just a pinch for biscuits and things seem to turn out okay. Just Curious.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi David- In a non-yeasted product like biscuits, usually you will just use some flavor by removing the salt (which is already in the self-rising flour). However, salt is very important in yeasted doughs (it not only brings flavor, but also regulates fermentation and strengthens gluten), so you are welcome to experiment with those kinds of recipes, but you may find they don’t take very kindly to alterations in the salt amounts. If you have any further questions, please feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-22523 and we’d be happy to help you out over the phone. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  10. Sue b

    The two ingredient biscuit recipe also works great with either full fat yogurt or sour cream. The sour cream version is a bit better since the yogurt version is a touch too tangy for my taste. But I finally have a biscuit recipe that works every time. And you can gently fold two or three times and cut to get more of a layer biscuit.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you so much for the suggestions Sue! It’s great to hear you have a great “go-to” recipe (those really are worth their weight in gold!) and we’re so happy we could help you find it. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

    2. Katherine

      Just out of curiosity, is the proportion of yogurt/sour cream the same as for the whipping cream? Also, would 0 fat Greek yogurt work as well?

      With thanks,

      Katherine

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Katherine, you’d use more yogurt or sour cream, as it’s thicker. Use enough to make a workable dough. Using nonfat Greek yogurt will give you tough biscuits, so I don’t recommend it; the texture of these biscuits relies on fat, so the less fat, the tougher the biscuits. Good luck – PJH

  11. David Earls

    Perfect combination for a “religious fanatic” traditional biscuit maker: the spirit is weak and the flesh is willing. Will be trying these this week.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      David, it’s OK to stray from the path of biscuit righteousness every now and then. And once you make these simple biscuits, you may just find yourself on a new path permanently! :) Enjoy – PJH

    2. David Earls

      OK, PJ, the Battle of the Biscuits will be on tomorrow. The UPS man brought me 15# of KA Self-Rising flour today, and I already had my homemade chewy burger buns under way. So tomorrow…

      I’ve been baking enough to appreciate the value of unbleached flour, and the self-rising flour in my grocery store is both bleached and 10-11% gluten. Just not going to make it for these biscuits. KA rocks!

      BTW, you could add a step and tip the scales to the Never Fails just by including clean-up. I’d rather bake and eat than clean…

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you wish to make sweeter biscuits that lean toward scones, you might try adding 3 Tablespoons of sugar to the Never-Fail Biscuit recipe, and then stirring in your choice of berries or fruit.~Jaydl@KAF

  12. David Lacy

    Thatks for the info on salt-vs.-low salt/no salt in biscuits. Now, is there any way to make my own “Self-Rising Flour” mix at home and just forgo the whole salt thing? I realize that will cut down on the sales of your own SRF, but I don’t think the loss of a bag or two every few months will break KAF;})

    Seriously, (if at all) your recipe for cream and SRF is just about the fastest thing around when I get a real Jones for “Bikkies”, as my wife calls them when scarfing them down! Good Baking to all at KAF!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      David, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder into 1 cup all-purpose flour, and you’ll have a salt-less (except for the sodium in the baking powder) self-rising flour approximation – enjoy! PJH

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