Good Flour Makes Good Biscuits - Vintage Recipes and Cookery (2024)

When I was young, my mother only made biscuits that came in a can. I’ve since eaten real homemade biscuits, and I can sure tell a difference.

There were no canned biscuits or boxed mixes in the 1800s, though. Biscuits, breads, and other bakery items were made from scratch.

INFORMATION BELOW FROM 1800s COOKBOOKS

BISCUITS
The word biscuit means twice baked, from the old way of cooking the cakes which is now no longer in use. Plain biscuits are said to be more nutritious than bread, and are most digestible when light and well browned in baking. Sea biscuit or ship bread is made simply of flour and water baked at a high heat.

Good Flour Makes Good Biscuits - Vintage Recipes and Cookery (1)IN BUYING FLOUR
Look for a slightly creamy cast. As starch is whiter than gluten, whiteness is therefore really no indication of the sweetness and strength of flour.Dazzling whiteness shows bleaching, and gray-white or black specks mean grinding from spoiled grain. Although flour does become whiter with age and will take up more water and make a whiter loaf, many prefer freshly ground flour for family use, as being better in flavor.

The feel of the flour should be velvety, with no trace of roughness—roughness usually means mixture with corn. A handful tightly gripped should keep the shape of the hand, and show to a degree the markings of the palm.

Injury to flour is shown most quickly in the gluten, which may lose its vitality. The gluten of good flour will swell to several times its bulk under a gentle heat, and give off the pleasant odor of hot bread, while the gluten from poor flour swells but little, becomes viscous or nearly fluid, and smells disagreeably. To determine the quantity and strength of the gluten, mix some of the flour with water and judge by the tenacity of the dough—the length to which it may be drawn out by the fingers, or spread into a thin sheet.

MOISTURE
It is impossible to give exactly the amount of liquid for any sort of bread-making because the condition of the flour and meal varies with weather and keeping.

In damp muggy weather, moisture is absorbed from the atmosphere. Upon a dry day, especially if there is much wind, drying out is inevitable. Anything that feels clammy or that clots, should be dried in a warm, not hot, oven. Heating flour before mixing it, taking care not to scorch it in the least, is one small secret of light bread, biscuit and cake. Flour in a bag may be laid in the sun with advantage. Use judgment in mixing. Note the appearance of what you are making closely— when it turns out extra good, set up that first condition as a standard.

BEATEN BISCUIT

Sift a quart of flour into a bowl or tray, add half a teaspoon of salt, then cut small into it a teacup* of very cold lard. Wet with cold water—ice water is best—into a very stiff dough. Lay the dough on a floured block or marble slab, and give one hundred strokes with a mallet or rolling pin. Fold afresh as the dough beats thin, dredging in flour if it begins to stick. The end of beating is to distribute air well through the mass, which, expanding by the heat of baking, makes the biscuit light. The dough should be firm, but smooth and very elastic. Roll to a half-inch thickness, cut out with a small round cutter, prick lightly all over the top, and bake in steady heat to a delicate brown. Too hot an oven will scorch and blister and too cold an oven makes the biscuit hard and clammy.

*teacup – same as a jill or gill; four ounces in the U.S. and five ounces in the U.K.

NOTE: Oven thermometers hadn’t been invented yet, so people had to learn which type wood and what size pieces would produce the heat they needed.

SODA BISCUIT

Sift a quart of flour with a heaping teaspoon of baking soda. Add a good pinch of salt, rub well through lard or butter the size of the fist, then wet with sour milk* to a moderately soft dough. Roll out, and working quickly, cut with a small round cutter. Set in hot pans, leaving room to swell, and bake in a quick oven* just below scorching heat. Handle as lightly as possible all through; this makes flaky biscuits.

By way of variety, add an egg beaten light, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar to the dough in mixing. Roll out thin — less than a half-inch, cut with a three-inch cutter, grease lightly on top, and fold along the middle. Let them rise on top a hot stove several minutes before putting in to bake. These doubled biscuits will be quite unlike the usual sort.

*sour milk – raw milk (not pasteurized) that was not used quickly enough, though still safe to drink.

*quick oven –about 400-450 degrees Fahrenheit

BREAKFAST BISCUIT
Two cups of fresh milk slightly warmed.
One quart and a cup of flour sifted.
Five tablespoons of yeast.
One even tablespoon of white sugar.
One even teaspoon of salt.
Bit of soda as large as a pea, dissolved in hot water.
One tablespoon of butter, just melted, not hot.
Yolk of one egg beaten light.

Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl, hollow the heap in the center and pour in the milk, working down the flour into the liquid with a spoon or your hands until it is thoroughly melted.

Into a second hollow, pour the yeast and knead thoroughly for fifteen minutes. Wrap the bowl and biscuit in a thick cloth and set to rise where it will neither become chilled nor sour over night. (Study the temperature in different parts of the kitchen and kitchen closets to find the best places for raising dough.)

Do all this at bedtime. Early in the morning, turn out the dough upon a floured board, and work it for a minute into a manageable shape. Drill several finger-holes in it and fill them with the melted butter, the dissolved soda and the beaten yolk of egg. Pinch the dough hard to stop the mouths of these cavities, and knead for ten minutes, carefully at first, lest the liquids should be wasted, and more boldly when they are absorbed by the paste.

Roll out into a sheet half an inch thick with a floured rolling-pin. Cut into round cakes, set them closely together in a well-greased pan. Prick each with a fork and let them rise near the fire for half an hour, covered with a light cloth.

Bake from twenty to twenty-five minutes in a quick oven, turning the pan around once, quickly and lightly. Break apart from one another and pile on a plate, throwing a clean doily or a small napkin over them. Break open at the table. Hot rolls and muffins should never be cut.

Photo from Deposit Photos

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What type biscuits do you like? Please leave a comment below.

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Good Flour Makes Good Biscuits - Vintage Recipes and Cookery (2024)

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