Biscuits in America are known by different names: Baking Soda Biscuits, Baking Powder Biscuits, and Buttermilk Biscuits. The name depicts the rising ingredient. Biscuits are fast rising with a soft middle and crunchy crust. Homemade biscuits are easy to make and always eaten warm from the oven. They are the ideal accompaniment to stews, soups, pot roast, and leftover turkey and gravy. The New England Cook Book from the 1930’s suggested serving biscuits “hot with maple syrup, preserves or honey.”
Joy of Cooking says of “Buttermilk Biscuits: Because of the sour milk and [baking] soda, this recipe has a very tender dough.” The recipe calls for baking powder, and baking soda along with buttermilk. This gives the recipe two different types of rising ingredients.
Brief History of Biscuits in America
Biscuits start out unsweetened and unleavened. A recipe under the name Biscuit shows up in Amelia Simmon’s, American Cookery 1796. By the 1830’s pearl ash is being used to raise a short cake [biscuit]. During the 1860’s soda and cream of tartar, or baking powder [soda and cream of tartar combined with flour] are in full use as rising agents. A few of these 1860’s biscuit recipes call for a small quantity of sugar while some remain unsweetened. One hundred fifty years later, lightly sweetened biscuit recipes continue to share space with unsweetened biscuit recipes.
Baking Powder Biscuits
Baking powder is “double acting” it has two rising ingredients, one works in the cold dough and the second works with heat in the oven. The following recipe calls for a short pre-oven rising in addition to the oven rising. The biscuits are light and tender.
Do Not turn oven on, wait
Dry Ingredients: sift together into a bowl, stir to make sure baking powder is mixed well
Shortening: cut into dry mixture with pastry cutter until crumbly (butter - pea size pieces)
Wet Ingredients: mix together in separate small bowl,
Pour into dry mixture, stir lightly with a fork until moistened. Dough should be soft but not loose. A little extra milk is sometimes needed but not always. Dough will be lumpy. Turn out onto a floured board, and roll in flour to cover lightly. Knead with hands until a smooth ball forms (30 seconds). Pat out on board to half inch thick. Cut with a round cookie cutter. Place on a greased cookie sheet one inch apart. Put a clean towel over the biscuits and let rise for 20 - 25 minutes on the kitchen table. Biscuits go through their first rising before going into the oven. This makes the biscuits light and tender. After 15 minutes turn oven on to 400 degrees, let the oven pre-heat to proper temperature. When oven is at 400 degrees put the biscuits in and bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Let cool ten minutes by placing in a basket with a clean towel to wrap hot biscuits in.
Soda biscuits were sometimes called Baking Soda and Cream of Tartar Biscuits because the two ingredients were used to raise the biscuit. Some recipes substitute Cream of Tartar with sour milk, buttermilk or vinegar. The following is a recipe found in the Merrimack Valley Sunday newspaper from 1988 “Biscuits the way Grandma made ‘em.” The article does not have the name of the author. The biscuits are very rich and tasty.
Darn Good Soda Biscuits
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Sift dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Cut cold butter or margarine into dry mixture with a pastry cutter until crumbly.
Turn dough out onto a floured board. Roll dough until lightly covered with flour. Pat or roll dough out to a half inch thick. Cut with a round cutter. Reshape leftover dough and cut again until all the dough is used.
Place cut biscuits one inch apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Eat warm.