Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Great Biscuit Fraud

My Cream Biscuits, still hot from the oven
This post is MUCH too long to be just about biscuits, but, what can I say? I'm a carb queen.

I wish I didn't love McDonald's Buttermilk Biscuits. I shouldn't love them. No one should. Come on, it's a fast food chain -- they shouldn't sell good biscuits, but they do. I like that they are light and tender, and hold up well to a sausage sandwich. I've heard tales from some forums that McDonald's uses a mix and adds water, rolling them out and baking (which seems unlikely); while others claim they come in a pre cooked slab and are heated from frozen with a brush of margarine (which seems more likely). I once knew a woman who -- ahem -- never had to pay for her lunches because she was particularly nice to the married cafe manager. Really nice. I'd like to think I'd never barter myself for a tuna sandwich, but then again, if I confirmed McDonald's uses a water based mix I might shame myself with my efforts to meet a manager and get a big bucket of it, somehow.

Buttermilk Biscuits shouldn't be difficult to make, but I've yet to find the perfect recipe (e.g., one that I can't screw up with too heavy a hand). Don't even suggest Pillsbury Grands -- those are an abomination, and although I'm a Trader Joe's Junkie, I don't like their frozen biscuit dough, either. Heavy, dense and greasy.

I'd like to be able to make my own and keep them frozen so that I can grab one for a portable breakfast sandwich, so I've gone on a quest to find that recipe. This will not only address my portable breakfast agenda, but, will help bring to an end a long running fraud I've been committing for years. YEARS, I tell you.

At least 7-8 years ago, I was invited to a potluck picnic by my boss and his wife. They were serving chicken and ribs and such, and I was asked to bring bread. Ah Ha! I thought. I've got some frozen Schwan's Southern Style Biscuits , those will work just fine. I baked them off, took them to the BBQ, and my boss went nuts, telling me, and his wife, that they were the best biscuits he'd ever had.

This Biscuit Adulation didn't sit well with his wife, who is a great cook and didn't like that someone else was getting all the attention, so she asked me for the recipe over and over again. I never said "Oh they are just frozen Schwan's biscuits, order some." NO, I had to complicate my life and lie, so I said "Oh I don't share that recipe -- it's my family recipe, but I"ll bring you some anytime you want, and you can keep them in your freezer and just bake them off for him whenever he asks for them."

Thus began the Great Biscuit Fraud. I ended up having to buy -- several times -- bags of frozen Schwan's Biscuits and giving them to her in a baggie with written instructions (they come in frozen par baked dough). I've done it probably once or twice a year, for 7 years. She's even said we should have one of those biscuit and tamale making parties around the holidays and put them all up at once. I always decline (of course). Oh what a tangled web we weave, and all that. Fortunately she doesn't read this blog.

I agree they are pretty damn good, but more free form -- a little closer to a drop biscuit -- than the rolled biscuit in the Schwan's product photo, but it's a pain in the ass to order ahead and coordinate delivery every other week, and tell the driver yet again that no, I don't want any of their overpriced frozen steaks. Just the biscuits. Oh, and some of the English fish and chips, those are excellent. And um, those vanilla ice cream sandwiches, too (See? this is why I can't shop at Schwan's anymore, except when I need to lie to my boss about biscuits).

Anyway, I want -- and need -- to master my own biscuit recipe so I've set about finding one that is fluffy, light, golden, and buttery. I've tried Angel Biscuits in the past, which are yeast based, but they didn't quite make it, either. Too much like a roll.

I found a recipe booklet online (and what a hoot it is), which has recipe clones for everything McDonald's sells, and it had the biscuit recipe in it. It seemed simple enough -- basically a doctored Bisquick biscuit recipe, but I was wary of anything which started with Bisquick. I was right to be wary. They were NOT the biscuits they sell in the restaurant, so don't be fooled. I'm not even posting the pic of those I made because they are not worthy. A decent enough biscuit, surely, but nothing to write home about. Oh, sorry, was I droning on? Have you tired of my biscuit drama and you want a link to the McMenu Cookbook instead? See the bottom of this post, if you're still with me.

Anyway, back to the biscuits. The McDonald's clones -- out. Not worthy. The Angel Biscuits -- meh. Not quite worthy. Then I found a "Cream Biscuit" recipe on the King Arthur Flour website and tried those. I recently learned that I really liked cornstarch based bakery recipes due to the wonderful texture. The best cake I've ever made was mostly cornstarch, so this recipe, which calls for more than the average amount of cornstarch, and heavy cream (whoo yeah) which I had on hand, seemed promising.

Also, I read a cookbook by Jane and Michael Stern -- Recipes from The Blue Willow Inn -- and the tip from the cook at this Southern inn said to handle the biscuit dough as little as possible. Literally stir just a bit until the flour is moist, slap the stringy floury wad down on the board and pat it out without kneading, and cut them without really mixing the dough all that well. I used KAF's recipe, but followed the Blue Willow Rule, and I'm really glad I did.

These biscuits were VERY VERY good. Best biscuits I've made to date, that's certain. The texture was wonderful. Very tender, very buttery, very delicate. Loved the crispy almost granular crust and the soft interior. However, they were not high and pillowy -- they didn't rise terribly high, and, when sliced for a sandwich, tended to crumble. So while these are great for a breakfast basket, they are not quite the right biscuit for a portable sausage breakfast sandwich.

KAF calls these Guaranteed Biscuits. I guarantee I'll make them again and eat the batch within 24 hours because they came together really quickly (except for the freezing time in Step 5 but that gave me time to clean up), but the quest for the McDonald's biscuit close, or a proper Buttermilk Biscuit, continues. Got any winning recipes for me?


1 3/4 cups KAF AP Flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 to 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, enough to make a cohesive dough
1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter

1) Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Stir in enough heavy cream to moisten the dough thoroughly. You'll probably use about 1 cup in the summer, 1 1/4 cups in the winter, and 1 cup + 2 tablespoons at the turn of the seasons. You want to be able to gather the dough together, squeeze it, and have it hang together easily, without dry bits falling off.
2) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and very gently pat it into an 8" circle about 3/4" thick. If you're uncertain about your ability to make a nice free form 8" round, pat the dough into a lightly floured 8" round cake pan, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
3) Use a sharp 2 ¼" biscuit cutter to cut rounds. Place them on a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet.
4) Brush the biscuits with butter, if desired, for extra flavor.
5) Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. This will improve the biscuits' texture and rise.
6) Preheat the oven to 425°F while the biscuits are in the freezer.
7) Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, till they're golden brown. Remove from the oven. If you have any melted butter left over, brush it on the baked biscuits. Serve immediately.


  1. Biscuits:
    Heat oven to 400.

    About 3 cups Hudson cream self rising flour (this flour makes the BEST biscuits)

    Cut in about 1/3 cup very cold butter flavor crisco.

    Add 1 cup buttermilk, and additional water to make a very moist dough.

    Turn out on to well floured board and knead a few times until it's very soft, but doesn't stick to your hands. Don't overwork the dough.

    Gently roll out to about 1/2 inch thick and cut biscuits.

    Melt a little bit of lard (bacon grease) or whatever in the bottom of your pan (cast iron frying pan works great to bake these biscuits in), put the biscuits in - they can be touching - then gently with the back of a spoon, rub a little of the melted lard (or butter) on each biscuit.

    Bake 15 min - will be VERY light golden brown - then stick them under the broiler for a few seconds.

    They won't be like Micky D's but I bet you'll like em :)

    PS - they freeze great too - I make them and just pull out a couple to thaw when I need them.

  2. Kate, you are too funny, I so enjoy your blog and the biscuit tale...LOL
    If you'd like I have an EXCELLENT recipe for both cream and buttermilk biscuits if you'd like, just send me an email...and please keep writing :)

  3. That is hilarious. I can't believe you've been able to keep up the charade. Although I have absolutely no tips on how to come clean, or any recipes for biscuits...but you had me laughing out loud this morning. Thanks.

  4. here's the link to my mom's biscuit recipe, they're not a dense as buttermilk biscuits, but are super easy and tasty. I always use plain yogurt, not milk. Regular (not low or non-fat) yogurt gives them a lot more flavor.


  5. Your biscuits look delicious! For a tender biscuit with a crispy outside, try the recipe on the Bakewell Cream can. It's one of the best we've ever tasted. Good luck on your quest! Molly @ KAF

  6. Great article, Kate! I love biscuits (and carbs) too. Will have to try this recipe when my new kitchen is up and running, haha.

    Ack, I am doomed with all these food blogs I've just discovered!