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{ Photo by Galie Photography }

A friend who grew up in Memphis once told me that when she didn’t move fast enough in P.E. class, the teacher would prod her: “Whatcha doin’ Sarah? Baking biscuits??

I love this taunt for so many reasons. It’s funny and fond and just so Southern to my Yankee-bred ear. I love it as a baker, too, because it comes from a culture that understands biscuits: Biscuits need care and attention — you can’t bake them while running laps or whatnot.

In short, baking biscuits (and scones, which use the same basic techniques and ingredients) is a craft. It’s about knowledge and technique and focus. Once you have the touch, however, you can dash off perfect biscuits and scones every time. You don’t even need to be Southern: A few basic tips will get anyone pretty close to perfection.

Here are what I consider to be the essentials of biscuit and scone baking:

1.Use Butter
Butter carries flavor like nothing else. It gives the best mouth texture. It outperforms any alternative. I know there are lard fans out there, and I try to be open-minded, but I have tested and tasted and I am sure where I stand on this. Furthermore, in the words of a fine Georgia woman who shared her biscuit recipe with me, “Sometimes you can be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

2.Add Butter and All Liquids Cold
Here’s where you get that oomph. Add ingredients cold, and try to keep them cool as you work. Don’t cream the butter, as you might for cakes or cookies. Break it down into little grains within the flour. I do this with a mixer, but some bakers cut in their butter by hand. Either way, keep it cool all the way to the oven. Don’t over-handle the dough with your warm hands. Don’t leave it on a warm counter for an hour. The best rising happens when cold butter enters a hot oven. Maximize it.

3.Work Fast and Light
Mix and shape dough only just enough, and no more. For one thing, over-working means over-warming. But dough-handling is a separate point, too, because biscuit and scone dough is sensitive. Shape it on a cool surface by patting it lightly — never knead it like bread.

4.There Is a Minimum Height
Don’t pat your dough too thin! I am religious about this. At Lola’s I used a ruler every time to ensure that my biscuits were at least 1″ thick when I cut them. Scones should be at least 3/4″ high when they’re cut. Any less and they just won’t bake right.

5. Make a Clean Cut
If you’re cutting biscuits, don’t twist the cutter, even at the end. If you’re cutting scones, don’t drag a knife. Use a nice sharp instrument and cut decisively — straight down. Tearing your dough will inhibit its rise.

6.Bake ‘Em Close Together
Whether you’re baking scones or biscuits, fit them together on your pan somewhat snugly. I leave about a finger’s width between items. And place your pan near the top of the hot oven. This is all about air circulation and maximizing the rise.

There you go: A light, flavorful final product, every time.

Not enough for you? Want to learn more, more, more about biscuit culture? Craving a stroll down Biscuit Boulevard? Yearning to become Miss Biscuit? (Or Mr. Biscuit?) Itching to submit your Biscuit Art for judging — or your Biscuit Songwriting? Have I got a 2016 vacation for you!

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