Make Better Biscuits with Pasta Flour
Biscuits are just a simple quick bread, but they’re also the source of a lot of opinions. Do you cut out the biscuits or drop them, like cookie dough, onto a sheet pan? Square or round? Do you use lard, shortening, or butter? If butter, do you grate the butter? Freeze it? What about the scraps—do you bake them alongside the biscuits, like Erika Council, or roll them out again?
Even if you’ve sorted out your biscuit preferences, good Southern biscuits, fluffy and layered and light, can still be difficult to recreate outside of the Southeast. That’s not necessarily due to the skills of the bakers from other regions. The flour in supermarkets in the Southeast tends to be soft white winter wheat, as opposed to the hard red winter wheat available elsewhere. Soft white winter wheat matters because it contains less protein, which means that it won’t produce as much gluten, the compound that makes bread robust and chewy. Too much gluten makes for a tough biscuit. But aside from importing a bag of White Lily, bakers outside the South have to improvise.
That’s why, when I saw the biscuit section of The Good Book of Southern Baking by Kelly Fields with Kate Heddings, I was particularly curious about the flour recommendation. Kelly Fields is the chef-owner of Willa Jean in New Orleans, where the biscuits are famously phenomenal. The book has six recipes for biscuits (plus one for dog biscuits), and all of them have distinct textures and flavors. But it was the recipe for the Bakers Biscuits, the signature at Willa Jean, flaky as croissants and big enough to make excellent sandwiches, that most intrigued me. In that recipe, Field makes an unconventional but wildly clever recommendation: Use pasta flour for your biscuits.
It makes perfect sense. Pasta flour, often sold as double zero (“00”) flour, is a softer Italian wheat flour that makes fresh pasta tender without being too chewy. (Semolina, another flour that’s popular for dried pasta, creates a much chewier result.) Double zero pasta flour is often sold at grocery stores and specialty markets throughout the country, and Fields believes it makes for excellent biscuits.
That’s not Field’s only trick. She prefers butter in her biscuits, grated and then frozen, to make it easier to work in the fat to the flour while keeping everything cold. (Melting butter is the enemy of creating those lofty layers.) She also folds the dough over itself, a technique called laminating that’s traditionally used to make croissants and pain au chocolat. But even if you have your own favorite methodology, the pasta-flour swap is an easy way to make sure your biscuits have that ideal airy texture. Since reading about it from Fields, I swapped in pasta flour for the same amount of all-purpose flour in a few different biscuit recipes and found that every time, the biscuits tasted better. What can I say? The chef sure knows her way around a biscuit.