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Biscuits: Rolled Vs. Dropped

by Elizabeth Skipper | October 9th, 2013 | Ask the Chef

biscuitsI’ve always made cut biscuits because I like their shape.  However, drop biscuits would eliminate the need to dirty another utensil and maybe minimize the amount of flour blowing around the kitchen.  Are there other differences between the two types of biscuits, and is one preferable?

I’m partial to rolled, cut biscuits, myself, and recently have been making them by request for one of my clients. The recipe I’ve been using calls for both baking powder and baking soda, and both milk and buttermilk (although I substitute yogurt for the buttermilk), and the biscuits are great. Although it’s simple – biscuits by definition should be simple — your question got me thinking about tweaking the ingredients and method for speed and convenience.

Remembering I had a bag of self-rising flour in the basement, I pondered that using some of that plus heavy cream would bring down the number of ingredients drastically while still making a good biscuit. A little research showed I’m not the first to have thought of this. Nathalie Dupree, a well-known southern cook and cookbook author, has a recipe like this in her book Southern Biscuits. The biscuits are rolled and cut, though, and you’re asking about drop biscuits.

The reason I prefer rolled, cut biscuits is that it seems easier to get the liquid to dry ingredients ratio right. You can never measure exactly because the dampness of the flour and the humidity in the air differ from day to day and region to region, so some judgment on the part of the baker is called for. For me, the dough for rolled, cut biscuits is easier to adjust if it’s too wet or too dry. I’m sure if I made drop biscuits more often it would come to me easily, but as of now that’s not the case.

You also have a choice with rolled biscuits as to whether to bake them close together in a pan, which keeps the sides soft, or spread out on a baking sheet, which gives crusty sides. Both are appealing; it depends on the effect you’re after. The softer dough for drop biscuits means that if you tried to put them close together, they’d tend to run into each other to form one big biscuit.

Another choice to consider is the texture you like your biscuits. With rolled dough you can fold it in thirds like a letter for a laminated dough, and get a flaky texture. You can skip that step if you like your biscuits more crumbly. That’s not an option with drop biscuits.

A consideration in favor of making drop biscuits is that unless you over-stir them, there’s less chance of the dough getting over-worked. Biscuits require a very light touch, and if the dough is manhandled while being formed and rolled out, they’ll be tough. Also, unless you use a cool cutter like one King Arthur Flour sells, the scraps that inevitably result will need to be reshaped and cut, and those biscuits will be a bit tougher. (The King Arthur cutter is six hexagonal shapes altogether in one assembly, which allows you to simultaneously form six biscuits while leaving virtually no scraps to re-roll. How nifty is that?) So unless you stir like a fiend when making drop biscuits, there’s less likelihood they’ll be tough.

Drop biscuits have another use, too. The dough is essentially the same as what you’d use for dumplings. So bottom line, yes, you can save a little time and have minimally less clean-up time by making drop biscuits, but the two kinds of dough each have their own uses. You probably want to have both in your repertoire.

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