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A traditional drop biscuit requires just five ingredients, but with its buttery, salty flavor, and cloud-like bite, the final result tastes anything but ordinary. While they're simple, there are still nearly endless variations from one coveted family recipe to the next, each with intense loyalties and deep-seated tastes and opinions attached. With my hat off to your time-honored recipes and trustworthy techniques, I'm here today to present my own drop biscuit thoughts and recipe.
Fannie Farmer, of the famed Boston Cooking School, called drop biscuits "emergency biscuits," which is incredibly appropriate considering that all you need to make them is about 25 minutes and a minimally stocked pantry. In fact, because of their speedy nature, they are a valued go-to item even for professional bakers and chefs.
To make them, I start by cutting the butter into lima bean–sized pieces and reserving them in the refrigerator to keep them nice and cold. After mixing my dry ingredients together (flour, salt, and baking powder), I add the butter and work it quickly with my hands, rubbing the butter into the flour just enough. Over-mix, and the result is tough; under-mix, and the result is dry, not tender.
This step can also be done in a food processor, requiring just a few short pulses. Much as when making a scone (which is essentially a biscuit with more sugar and an egg), you want to keep pieces of solid, visible butter in there to give you a tender, rather than dry or chewy, final texture.
The food processor is a great option when you're working with really large batches of dough, or if you're working in a particularly warm environment. Otherwise, rubbing in the butter by hand gives you more control over the mixing. It also means fewer dishes, which is always a big plus in my world.
After that, I carefully mix in the liquid with a fork to create a dough that's shaggy and moist. The beauty of the drop biscuit is that it requires much less handling than its super-flaky cousin, so there's much less risk of overworking the dough and developing too much gluten.
Some recipes call for buttermilk, others for milk; since I tend to have whole milk on hand more often, I stay in line with Fannie's "emergency biscuit" philosophy and use a milk-based approach. After all, part of the advantage of these biscuits is how easy they are to throw together with ingredients that most of us have available all the time.
Unlike those flaky biscuits, these drop biscuits do not include an egg. Although I played around with several variations using egg, the egg always seemed to make a drop biscuit that was overly spongy and cake-like, rather than soft and tender.
I also experimented with different ratios of heavy cream to milk, but the higher fat content from the cream, although delicious, created a denser final product. In the end, the simple, five-ingredients formula—butter, flour, baking powder, salt, and milk—yielded the best results.
How to Make Drop Biscuits, Step by Step
Step 1: Cut the Butter
Using a knife or bench knife, chop the butter into lima bean–sized pieces. Transfer the butter to the refrigerator to keep it nice and cold before the mixing process.
Step 2: Mix the Dry Ingredients
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. If you want to flavor your biscuits with herbs, or use them for a sweet application, this is the time to add things like rosemary, chili flakes, a tablespoon of sugar, cheese, or whatever else you desire.
Step 3: Incorporate the Butter
Toss the butter into the dry ingredients. Using your fingers (or a pastry blender), rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Do this quickly, so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the butter.
Step 4: Add Wet Ingredients to Dry Ingredients
Add the milk and stir with a fork until the mixture just comes together into a slightly sticky, shaggy dough.
Step 5: Portion the Dough
Using a teaspoon (or small cookie scoop), scoop walnut-sized balls of dough onto a baking sheet. To prevent the biscuits from sticking, you can use parchment on the sheet pan, or simply coat it lightly with cooking spray or butter.
Step 6: Bake!
Bake the little beauties at 400°F (200°C) for about 15 minutes, or until they're golden brown.