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Ask Eric: How to make your biscuits tender, flaky and light

Q I love your column and your approach to food and recipes. In this morning's paper, I was delighted to find out how to test baking soda for its effectiveness. I do have one burning question.
Biscuits -beautiful, light, buttery biscuits -you make from scratch in minutes.

Q I love your column and your approach to food and recipes.

In this morning's paper, I was delighted to find out how to test baking soda for its effectiveness. I do have one burning question. My friends are able to bake perfectly light and delicious biscuits. I have tried numerous recipes, theirs included -all to no avail. I often provide baked goodies for a large bridge group of mine, and would truly love to surprise them with perfect biscuits.

Hanne Skelton, Nanaimo

AThe column Hanne is referring to is one I did on muffins and why they might not rise if the baking soda used was old and not activating. To test it, mix a quarter-teaspoon with two teaspoons vinegar. If the baking soda is still good, it will bubble immediately.

If you use past-its-prime baking soda in biscuits, they won't rise properly.

The same is true for baking powder. To test it, mix one teaspoon with a halfcup hot water. If it's still good, this mixture will bubble immediately.

After receiving other reader emails about that muffin article, it was clear that some people don't fully understand the difference between these two ingredients.

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate and requires an acidic ingredient, such as buttermilk, to activate a chemical reaction that will help leaven a baked good. Baking powder was invented to enable bakers to leaven dough without an acidic ingredient. This product contains baking soda, a drying agent -usually cornstarch -and cream of tartar, the acid that enables baking powder to be used in recipes that have no other acidic ingredient.

According to, baking soda has about four times the leavening strength of baking powder. Why? It's because the baking soda in baking powder is diluted with those other ingredients. The website says the general rule, depending on the other ingredients used, is that one to two teaspoons of baking powder are needed to leaven one cup of flour.

In The Joy of Cooking, their buttermilk biscuit recipe, which uses 1 3/4 quarter cups flour, calls for two teaspoons of baking powder plus half a teaspoon of baking soda.

According to, when both are used, the baking soda's role is to neutralize the acids in the recipe, add tenderness and provide additional leavening.

In several other books, including The New Canadian Basics Cookbook, biscuit recipes using two cups of flour called for four teaspoons of baking powder.

No baking soda was used, which explains why a more generous amount of baking powder was needed for leavening. I created a recipe for Hanne modelled on those recipes. They used regular milk, which most people have on hand, and were a little richer in fat, which gave the biscuits a wonderful texture.

When making biscuits, after I cut in the fat, I like to use my fingertips to ensure no larger pieces remain in the flour. When adding the milk, don't overmix the dough or the gluten in the flour will start to develop and the biscuits will be tough.

When the dough is ready to turn on to the work surface it will be fairly moist, as it should be. The floured surface and your floured hands, used to shape the dough, will add enough additional flour to the dough to create the proper consistency.

Eric Akis is the author of the recently published Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.


Light biscuits, leavened with baking powder and enriched with butter. Serve with preserves and cheese, or soups or stews.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 12 to 13 minutes

Makes: 12 to 14 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

2 tsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small cubes

3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl, and whisk to combine. With your fingers, two forks or a pastry cutter, work the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until thoroughly distributed. Gently mix in the milk until a loose dough forms, then turn it onto a floured surface. With floured hands, gently knead and shape the dough into a ball (don't overwork the dough or the biscuits will be tough). Flatten the dough into a 1-to 1 1/2-inch thick disk. Use a lightly floured, 2-inch round cutter to cut the dough into rounds and place them on the baking sheet. Gather up the scraps of dough, and press and cut into biscuits as well. Bake the biscuits in the middle of the oven for 12 to 13 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Eric's options: This recipe could be doubled. To make larger biscuits, use a larger, 3-inch round cutter.

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