Why It Works
- Quickly mixing the dough with a fork reduces gluten formation, resulting in a tender, soft drop biscuit.
- Preparing the butter first and reserving it in the refrigerator keeps it cold to avoid unwanted melting.
Traditional drop biscuits require just five ingredients, but with their 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 a 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.
Two Ways to Mix Drop Biscuits
To make them, I start by cutting the butter into lima bean–sized pieces and reserving it in the refrigerator to keep it 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 drop biscuit.
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.
A Simple Ingredients List is Best
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 some recipes, my drop biscuits do not include an egg. Although I played around with several variations using egg, it 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.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (6.6 ounces; 190g)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
4 ounces cold unsalted butter (1 stick; 115g), cut into 1/4-inch cubes and refrigerated
3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper; alternatively, grease the baking sheet with butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Toss butter into dry ingredients until coated with flour. Working quickly, using your fingers or a pastry blender, rub or cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Alternatively, add flour mixture and butter to the bowl of a food processor and pulse 2 to 3 times to form pea-sized pieces; transfer to a large bowl.
Add milk and stir with a fork until the mixture just comes together into a slightly sticky, shaggy dough.
For small biscuits, use a teaspoon or a small cookie scoop to mound walnut-sized balls of dough onto prepared baking sheet. For large biscuits, use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to mound balls of dough onto prepared baking sheet.
Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15 minutes for small biscuits and 20 minutes for large ones. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.