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Layers in Homemade Biscuits

I have noticed a new thing in recent years - people are working to put layers into their homemade biscuits! This is a new thing to me; my grandmother certainly never tried to laminate her biscuit dough! Do we come to this via TV commercials for a certain tube-popping product? Or did my family just not know how to make biscuits correctly? I don't see any layering going on in older cookbooks (actually, I don't know if I've ever seen it in newer ones, either) - is this an internet recipe phenom? The idea of laminating biscuits a bit sounds very good - I just wonder where/when it came from - ? Do you all out there laminate your biscuits, or better yet, expect them to come apart in layers?

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  1. never had layers in my family's southern biscuits. only layers i've seen are in the pop-up pillsbury ones.

    1. I expect biscuits (or tea biscuits as we call them) to be tender and slightly crumbly, not layered.

      1. It may be both old and new.

        Prior to baking powder, there were 'beaten biscuits' where the dough was folded, beaten flat, and folded again and again. And some biscuit instructions call for working the fat in by pressing it into little disks, which might produce some flakiness. But the first place I saw instructions to fold and roll the biscuit dough multiple times was in Ruhlman's Ratios book. He lets the dough rest, to relax some the gluten that develops with this working.

        I've also come across the fold and roll idea in some olive oil biscuit recipes. One time when I made those I sprinkled grated cheese between layers, which added a nice flavor. I learned that it is best to cut off any folded edges, because they limit the rise.

        There's a trade off between the interesting texture of these layers, and the tenderness of lightly worked biscuits.

        1. Layered Homemade biscuits?? ~ Heaven to Betsy No! ~ Not in my South!

          1. If you look at Best Recipe (Cooks Illustrated), there are two versions of biscuits, one laminated, one not. Maybe the laminated one is from those pop and fresh cannisters with biscuits that have layers? I like both versions, btw. The laminated one when we're just eating biscuits, the other when we're putting gravy over them (in general but I made the latter for just eating, too).

            1. I suspect the lamination in factory biscuits is due to the production process, with the fat set between layers of dough instead of being cut into the dry ingredients. It's a production-based strategy, but it appears that someone has decided to make a virtue out of the end result and encourage its duplication in the home kitchen. Interesting! Right up there with recipes for creating your own Twinkies and Pop-Tarts.

              1. I was staying with some friends of my son's for a triathalon, and the mom of the house was famous for her biscuits. After rolling (or patting) them out, she buttered the dough, then folded it, and proceeded to cut the biscuits.
                They are easy to pull apart, in half. She only did it once, not more than two layers, a top and a bottom.

                1 Reply
                1. re: wyogal

                  I have seen a similar thing done where softened butter was spread on the rolled out dough and then given a book fold. Beautiful and delicious layered results.

                2. I prefer the layered biscuits, escpeilly for dinner but for breakfast either layered or non-layered works. The non-layered biscuits are better for topping with gravy, but a layered biscuit makes a better sausage, cheese egg sandwich.

                  1. So, is it just an urban legend that you can get flaky biscuits without folding the dough?

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: jvanderh

                      You can get flaky biscuits, like flaky pie crust, without folding the dough but if you want pull apart layers, like the pop and fresh type, you need to fold. The "flakiness" comes from the butter/fat melting between the layers when baking and is small. But, if you don't fold, you won't be able to pull them apart in big sheets but have to tear it.

                          1. re: chowser

                            I like those pull-apart biscuits! I was under the impression that if I got the dough just right, they would separate into layers like that by themselves.

                            1. re: jvanderh

                              There is a quick puff pastry method out there that kind of does that, smearing large pieces of butter into the flour.
                              But, to get the pull apart biscuit, just spread the rolled out dough with butter, fold, roll, fold, roll. One can chill in between rolls and folds, like with croissant or puff pastry. It only takes a couple of times of rolling and folding to get lots of layers (number of layers grow exponentially). Just be gentle with the dough.

                              1. re: wyogal

                                Yeah- I've found that folding that many times requires so much extra flour that the biscuits come out dry.

                                1. re: jvanderh

                                  Then don't use so much flour. Never a problem for me. I don't add flour to each turn.

                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                    If you need the extra flour for rolling, just use a pastry brush to brush it back off before you do the folding.

                                    1. re: jvanderh

                                      You're doing it wrong if the folded biscuits come out dry. I use Peter Reinharts buttermilk buiscuit recipe and the is melted butter seeping on the sheet pan as they bake. It only takes a double book fold to achive maximum flakiness.

                                      1. re: Kelli2006

                                        If it's in the Breadbaker's Apprentice, I'll give it a shot.

                          2. re: jvanderh

                            flaky pie crust is not like flaky biscuits -- biscuits are fluffier. and the layered biscuits are not "flaky."

                            1. re: jvanderh

                              although the memories are getting fuzzy *sniff*, I recall my grandmother's biscuits , when the y were right out of the oven, opened up w/ a little bit of the layering effect. I don't recall seeing her fold the biscuits after patting out. I assume it was just the randomness of the bits of shortening that weren't totally incorporated, combined with steam, that allowed them to separate a little bit.

                            2. My favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe is from a cookbook called Yankee Hill-Country Cooking, which I inherited when my husband's grandmother passed (with her notes in it... awesome heirloom!). The recipe calls for kneading lightly. When I made them the first time, the kneading left some light layers in it through no special effort of my own. And they're great- but not the same fluffy texture as southern biscuits. This is a cookbook from the 40's, so perhaps folds were at least present in Yankee biscuits back then?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: happybellynh

                                I vaguely recall reading about some Yankee v Southern divide over biscuit history and styles, though the only thing I can find off hand is that around the time that baking powder biscuits developed (late 19c), the regional flour in the South was soft winter wheat, while the North had harder varieties (either locally grown, or shipped from Kansas). You still see that in the difference between White Lily flour and King Arthur AP. Truly light fluffy biscuits need the softer, low gluten flour.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Being from Georgia, my family always made biscuits with White Lily SR flour. Mom (and myself) would occasionally use Bisquick which does make a decent biscuit.

                                  I recently added a tin of Bakewell Cream to my King Arthur order and decided to make myself some "yankee" biscuits. Used King Arthur AP flour and the recipe from KA.

                                  I have to say that those New England style biscuits are right tasty.

                                  The older generations,on my mom's side of the family, biscuits where about the size of two Ritz crackers stacked up. Just barely thick enough to be able to cut in half to apply butter.

                                  On my dad's side, they were cat heads about two inches thick.

                              2. Ah, lard. Yes my grandmother's biscuit had a layered effect. But I think the modern reason is those nasty pre made ones.

                                1. " I just wonder where/when it came from - ? Do you all out there laminate your biscuits, or better yet, expect them to come apart in layers?" < simply no.....but....

                                  darn those canned/tube/"pop open sharply on the kitchen counter layer things" in deli/dairy section that announce boldly on their green (< dare I say) shiny packaging (layer biscuits) complete with picture.

                                  let's face it many don't bake at all. maybe that's what some think biscuits are. < layered.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                    What's wrong with those canned biscuits?

                                    I've had biscuits all my life, starting with the ones my mom made with oil. I've made the Touch-of-Grace ones. I've made Ruhlman's 312 ('Chicago') ones; tasty layered olive oil ones. Today's were oatmeal scones. And I also like the canned ones, and ones made from a mix (especially when baked in camp in a dutch oven). At one time I was especially partial to the buttery Popeye's ones. They all have a place on my table.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      You have a lot of biscuit experience.....EXCEPT for good ol' Southern ones! Touch-of-Grace ones - close, but not quite. Oil? NEVER. Ruhlman's? NO. Popeye's? NO. Scones? NO. Mixes? NO. Canned ones? NO.

                                      Not that there is ANYTHING AT ALL wrong with most of the above. It's just that I feel bad that you might not have had the real thing!

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        I am a professionally trained baker, have traveled extensively in England, and I make both authentic English scones and Southern-style biscuits. I hate to tell all you Southerners (I currently live in the South), but you are NOT the inventors of the Southern-style biscuit. It is the same thing as English scones and was brought over to America by the English settlers. The only difference between the English scone and the American Southern-style (flaky) biscuit is the scone is sweetened with a small amount of sugar. So, if PaulJ has eaten English-style scones (much different from the dry, rock-hard American-style "scones"), then he has eaten Southern-style biscuits, albeit a bit sweeter.

                                        1. re: Suesings62

                                          One, I am not a southerner.

                                          Two, I am also an experienced baker, and I am well aware of the extreme similarity between real scones and biscuits.

                                          Three, don't many of our baked goods have European/English roots?

                                          Four, I keep hearing about "flaky" and "layered" in reference to Southern biscuits, but the only ones I've seen like that come in the can. Real ones don't traditionally do that.

                                          Five, so, your post was directed at ME why?

                                          1. re: Suesings62

                                            One word: Haughty. You seem to have that American euro affliction, and cannot understand the further development of a certain technique in the Americas. Dig deeper and you will learn more.

                                            1. re: Suesings62

                                              English settlers couldn't have brought scones/biscuits over (in the 17 and 18 c). Baking powder wasn't invented until the middle of the 19th c. Pure baking soda wasn't produced much earlier. Unleavened biscuits/bannock/hardtack were around earlier.

                                              Also the earliest English settlers had trouble growing wheat, and turned to corn instead, especially in the southern colonies. Refined wheat flour did not become common until the invention of steel roller mills (by Hungarians).

                                              I think it was more a case of parallel development in both countries. To say American biscuits developed from English scones is like saying that American trucks developed from English lorries. :)

                                          2. re: paulj

                                            nothing is wrong with them.
                                            MIL was the second best baker I ever met and she even used Cresent Rolls in several of her meals. she even added Cresent Rolls to a favorite recipe of all of ours, her Bavarian Strudel.
                                            She was a full time secretary to the President of a major coporation and the busiest home maker I knew. she slept 3 hrs a night and never stopped during the day or night. she dressed like Grace Kelly and looked a million dollars every minute of every day.
                                            I'd not put her down for choosing a short cut. she deserved all the short cuts available.

                                        2. In Maryland recipes for beaten biscuits are essentially the same as layered biscuits.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Daddakamabb

                                            None of the versions I have made or seen are produced even remotely the same.
                                            What are you calling a Beaten Biscuit?

                                          2. Homesick Texan's amazing biscuits are the closest thing I'd want to a flaky biscuit. It is all about how you treat the dough....no lamination necessary. Perfect biscuits.

                                            1. My grandmother made biscuits that had layers that opened like a book. Never saw anyone else have that kind of biscuit. (I am 80 years old.) I imagine she rolled the dough rather thin and greased each layer, laid them on top of each other, then cut dainty little biscuits. (I never did see how she made them - they were ready when we arrived.) Maybe not the healthiest, but they were surely good. I am trying to find an old recipe for such a biscuit. Thanks for your help.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Patschat

                                                Try this link for layered biscuits: http://www.foodiewithfamily.com/2013/...

                                                I have not tried this recipe, but from all I know as a trained baker/pastry chef, this is the method for making layered products. If you follow her instructions exactly, you should come out with the type of biscuit your grandmother made. Good luck!

                                                1. re: Suesings62

                                                  wow is that ever a thorough link for helping us understand the complexities of making this type of biscuit. thanks for sharing link Suesings

                                                2. re: Patschat

                                                  Pat, I'm applauding your 80 years.
                                                  I love that. good for you.
                                                  love how your grandma did that.
                                                  I think you're right about how grams did that.
                                                  I'll bet she either took puffpastry, rolled it thin, cut and oiled and stacked or.....made a pastry, rolled thin, oiled in between layers and stacked her pastry for the intended result. either way, I love it

                                                3. You know, all this deconstructing and etymologizing of biscuits and their roots, is enough to give this baker of homestyle biscuits a headache. Just bake them, for goodness' sake. No wonder novice bakers have freakouts over just the right ingredients and just the right technique. It isn't that hard to get a perfectly good biscuit, and if you do it enough, it gets really easy.

                                                  This is the simplest of foods, that should be in any cook's repertoire. And I am sick to death of Southern cooks deciding they are the authorities here. IMO, if you use good flour, buttermilk and a light hand, you will get lovely biscuits, assuming you have a good recipe. And recipes abound in every basic cookbook.

                                                  Please just bake your biscuits and enjoy them.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                    And a level head enters the discussion. ;-)

                                                    1. re: sueatmo

                                                      Sometimes I just want to bake biscuits, and sometimes I want to make an "improved" version. The simplest foods were always made best by the house cooks, whether grandmas or hired cooks, and the next generation learned from watching them. My mom made them every night but still kept the recipe taped to a cabinet door. Unfortunately I didn't watch her that often and she used White Lily flour, which still exists but has changed in its makeup.

                                                      My biscuits, which I don't bake very often for health reasons, look sometimes great and sometimes awful, but they always taste good, especially hot with butter. I also love to toast the leftovers in the morning. Again spread with butter.

                                                      I get what you are saying and I agree that the novice cook should just plunge right in. But sometimes I really want to perfect the technique, and I get a lot of pleasure out of that.

                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                        I'd have to say the opposite on making a good biscuit. It's far too easy to make them tough and there's the question of the type and what type of fat to use, flour, whether to use buttermilk/milk/cream, etc. Roll or drop? Layers or flaky? It's easy if you know how but from someone who learned from the basics, it wasn't. I made quite a few rock biscuits before finding the right touch.

                                                      2. I had a laminated biscuit dough recipe that worked great, but I can't locate it now. The trick was to use grated frozen butter, which you would spread over the rolled out dough, and then fold. Do it two or three times. I'm not saying this is the best or only way, but it produced great, flakey biscuits.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: MarkC

                                                          By the way, the grated frozen butter is good for avoiding overworking the dough. You don't have to fold the dough - some recipes just tell you to toss the grated butter into the dry ingredients.

                                                          For flakiness, sprinkle the gratings over two-thirds of the rolled out dough, then fold the final third over, and then fold again to create three laminated layers. Roll out and repeat, with rests in between. More time consuming than drop biscuits, but it gives you those crisp layers.