I've been making Bill Neal's recipe for buttermilk biscuits. He says not to the knead the dough too much (and even specifies 10 times as the amount of kneading). However, I noticed when I strictly followed his instructions the biscuits didn't rise as well. If I knead them more, they rise better.
Any comments or similar experiences?
Why does this happen?
biscuit are not supposed to be chewy like bread. that's why you don't want to knead the dough. i just mix. the rise is due to the baking powder, baking soda--( and buttermilk). the buttermilk you can't change. so if you are getting a flatish biscuit, you may need to adjust the bp or bs.
or perhaps this is a matter of expectation. biscuit should and can only rise so much. as long as it's nice and fluffy. it's a good biscuit.
My husband makes very good light biscuits, and he does knead until the dough is fairly soft. Obviously it won't spring back like a yeast dough, but it is soft enough for him to pat it to the right thickness by hand.
cooksillustrated.com (or their Best Recipe cookbooks) address some of what you talk about. Their article about biscuits starts:
"Biscuits can be soft and fluffy or flaky and high-rising. Each type requires surprisingly different ingredients and techniques ... More often than not, though, all biscuits are made the same and disappoint in exactly the same way ... there are fine points to biscuit making, but the whole process begins with the answer to this simple question: What kind of biscuit do you like best? Soft and fluffy or flaky and tall? After that, there is a specific recipe and technique that will render the desired outcome--not just one time, but time after time."
I'm not going to reprint the whole thing here (and not only because I'm tired of referring to that book for pretty much 50% of the questions that are asked here :) ) but briefly,
fluffy: 1/2 cake flour, baking powder and soda, buttermilk, hot oven
flaky: no cake flour, baking powder only, normal milk, moderate oven
but the quantities of ingredients are important and precise, and you adjust down to the teaspoon of flour depending on how wet/dry things are.
in both cases, stir with spatula, no kneading whatsoever. The technique my mother taught me is to repeatedly scoop/scrape down/into the side of the bowl, and then lift the spatula up through the contents of the bowl. Over and over, rotating the bowl and basically mixing by turning the contents over, and avoiding "mashing" as much as possible.
Before the liquid gets added, it is critical to mix the dry ingredients well so the leavening gets spread around. (your kneading may be making up for this, giving you an improvement but not the all that you could get?) Cutting the butter into the dry ingredients is also an art (though one that is easy with a cuisinart :) )
Since none of this matches what you've described, I can't help you with what you've done, but you can see that if cooksillustrated'd experience is accurate, there are many variables and you may be seeing interactions between the many ingredient choices and different mixing stages.
Buy the book, join their website, it is really useful. I'm not shilling for them, I'm shilling for me: if you all used this resource before asking here, the level of the discussion would really soar.
re: Reared on Home Cookin
I have both the last edition of Best Recipe as well as the most recent edition, and was recently referring to this very question in my editions. I noted the new edition seems to have removed the flaky recipe and only has the fluffy. Do you have any insight into this? I figured the new edition would be all of the old, plus more! Seems I was wrong. Have you compared between them at all?
The info that I put in my post I got from their website, so they still have both recipes there.
I knew that their different cookbooks are annonying permutations of one another, but I did not know they deleted stuff like that.
The website does not have the gory details of all the failures they tried, so that's disappointing because it's the most useful for diagnosing what people who ask questions have done wrong.