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My biscuits have spots

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
I've enjoyed cooking for a long time but am quite new to baking. I've had great success with this biscuit recipe:
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.
Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

They're big, flakey, and delicious. However, they are also covered in tiny, somewhat darker spots. It doesn't really hurt anything but I'm wondering why it's happening. Is it the way I'm mixing them? Maybe one or more of my ingredients are a little old? Any thughts appreciated.

Thanks - JAY
post #2 of 27


Heavy biscuits or scones -- Make sure you aren't cutting the fat into the dry mixture beyond the coarse crumb stage.
When adding liquid, stir just until moistened. Do not overmix.
A dry, tough crumb -- Handle dough more gently. Use your fingers to gently knead dough for the number of strokes indicated in the recipe.

>>Yellow specks on the top crust -- Be sure you are stirring the dry ingredients well enough to distribute the baking soda or baking powder.<<

A hard crust -- Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer. Also check for doneness at the minimum baking time. They are done when both the top and bottom crusts are an even golden brown.
post #3 of 27
...Your title sounds like a medical joke....

post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your response!

How big is a "coarse" crumb?

How long should this take and should I be using something other than a spoon, (i.e., a mixer or food processor)?

Thanks - JAY
post #5 of 27
Thread Starter 
...and I'll thank you not to make personally denigrating comments about my biscuits. They're in better shape than a lot of guys my age...
post #6 of 27

when you use the rubbing in method

it should have a sandy texture before adding the liquid
and i think its always best to do it by hand rather than in a machine as you can really get the feel of the mix and its less hard to seriously over mix it could be that the mix was over mixed which caused the dark spots, the gluten in the flour may have been overworked
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
post #7 of 27
Thread Starter 
I did mix it by hand and I stopped when I could no longer feel chunks of shortening or butter. At that point I could form a thin "wafer" by pinching the mixture between my thumb and finger. Maybe I overdid it.

I realize you're in New Zealand, but would it be too much trouble to stop by my house in Minnesota and show me how to do it properly? Think it over...

Thanks - JAY
post #8 of 27

sure thing Jay

you provide the airfare and i will be there :crazy::crazy::bounce::bounce:
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
post #9 of 27
Thread Starter 
Change of plans. Income taxes are due today in the U.S. and I just sent all of my money off to the federal government. Otherwise, I definitely would have.

post #10 of 27

dont ya just hate when that happens

darn tax department :crazy::crazy::crazy::crazy::crazy::crazy:
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
post #11 of 27

Biscuits with Spots

"baytonemus"......., before adding shortening and liquid, I sift all the dry ingredients 2 and 3 times to make sure everything is well distributed. The coarse crumble is something that you learn to judge from experience. The fat particles should just become coated with the dry ingredients....not melted by warm fingers, which would reduce your mix to a ball of conglomerated paste. Everything needs to be really COLD, and work quickly, especially if you must use your hands. Refrigerate for a time before rolling or pressing out the dough and cutting the biscuits. Those small particles of coated fat explode and create the flakiness while baking in the oven.

"Anywhoo", If they taste good and are fairly tender and flakey.....who cares about a perfect appearance????
Just keep trying until they come out to your liking.....Thats how I developed my ability for bread making.
Don't give up...continue trying...and all will come out to perfection !!!
post #12 of 27
Thread Starter 
Yes, I'm hip to keeping things cold. Seems like there's a difference of opinion about using your hands and I can see where that would unavoidably warm things up a bit. They really did puff up and were quite flaky so I can't be too far off the mark in that regard.

Thanks again - JAY
post #13 of 27

Hate to be a killjoy and all, but to return to the serious subject of biscuits with spots ...

Wish I had a picture. All biscuits don't brown evenly which is a function of ovens, ingredient function, and ingredient proportions, the way the biscuits are mixed, and the way they're prepped in the pan.

You temperature which is probably about as hot as your oven can go seems to take the oven itself out of it.

Your baking soda may not be fresh, it's dated on the bottom of the can. If you've got less than 6 months, or it's coming out of the can lumpy instead of as fine, dry particles, replace it with a good brand of double acting like Calumet or Clabber Girl.

A couple of your recipe's proportions are on the extreme end of what's "normal" for biscuits. Most buttermilk biscuit recipes use 1 to 1-1/3 tsp of baking powder per cup of flour, and around 1/4 cup of shortening per cup of flour. The baking powder ratio is more important to the outcome. At a certain point, additional baking powder doesn't help in the outcome and leaves an off taste which some people are more sensitive to than others. You should change your baking powder measure to 1 tbs (3 tsp) at most.

The parsimonious amounts of butter and shortening in your recipe gives your biscuits more fluffy-bread than flaky-biscuit texture. Your biscuit recipe is emphatically not "heavy" or "rich." In fact, although you do use butter, it's unusually lean; and, the relative lack of fat may be your causing your spottiness problem, because it makes it difficult to see if you've properly incorporated the fat into the flour.

You hear the "coarse meal" texture mentioned frequently. It's a decent indicator. I'd prefer to see it a trifle uneven, with nothing finer than coarse meal, but a scattering of bigger pieces for flakiness.

A pastry cutter a.k.a. dough mixer does a faster and better job than fingers, forks or two knives. Faster is better because the shortening doesn't heat up as much -- which does make a difference later in texture and the evenness of the rise. So does thoroughness. Invest the $3. This is one of the three most likely fixes. The second takes us backwards into the mixing process. And that's thoroughly mixing your dry ingredients before cutting in the fat. The best way is to sift the ingredients together, then re-sift. But that's heavy OCD. At least, mix everything thoroughly with a fork before adding the fat.

The third is to brush the tops with liquid (wash) immediately before baking. If nothing else, this will heal the surface somewhat, and give them a more even finish. The most common washes for biscuits are buttermilk, milk, melted butter, or a 2:1 mix of melted butter and honey. Just put a little in a small bowl or saucer and, after you have the biscuits in the pan and ready to bake, brush their tops lightly with the liquid. Use just enough pressure to smooth the dough with your brush.

Since you're not complaining about texture, you're probably handling the dough gently enough. Biscuit dough is tricky, in that it actually can take a little bit of abuse -- for instance "turning" to make layers. The trick is to stop messing with it the instant it starts to feel heavy (density change). Why do I mention this, if it's not the problem? Feel.

Biscuits are all about feel. Once you stumble into doing everything right a few times, you'll get a good sense of how the dough feels through the various stages. All down hill from there.

Think I'll make some scallion-cheese biscuits for breakfast,
post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all of that input! Much appreciated. Maybe I'll post back when I get a chance to make another batch over the weekend.

post #15 of 27
I'd bet it's your baking powder. I did a side by side comparison of baking powders a long while back. I used all the same ingredients and technique in all the batches, only different baking powders. I found that when using Bob's Red Mill I got even color, Bakewell's Cream light spots, Rumford's medium spots and Hain Pure Foods dark spots. I still use Hain's for everything because it had the least bitter "baking powder" taste.
post #16 of 27

Single Acting Baking Powders


I think you might be on to something.

All of the baking powders you listed are single acting, not double-acting baking powders -- despite what some of the retailers say (they just have it wrong). However, not all single actings are created equal. Because of the particular dry acids used in Bob's and Bakewell, they get a little more action in the oven than Rumford or Hain. Your order of "spottiness" is about what you'd expect if rate of rise was the culprit.

post #17 of 27
Thread Starter 
Interesting. I'll have to see which BPs are available to me here.

What's the principle at work with regard to single and double acting powders?
post #18 of 27
Baking SODA is sodium bicarbonate (NaHC03), a.k.a. "bicarb," bicarbonate of soda. In chemistry jargon it's a "buffering salt." In the presence of acid in solution it reacts by forming carbon dioxide gas (among other products.) The gas "lifts" the dough. The bottom line is baking soda needs a liquid acid to do its work. Buttermilk is such an acid. If baking soda is the leavening agent, most of its leavening takes place as soon as the acid is added. Because of temperature/efficiency considerations, there is some slight, additional gas production when the dough is heated in the oven.

"But," you ask, if the gas is already in the dough where does the rise come from?" The gas forms bubbles in the dough. When the dough is heated, the gas within the bubbles expands, and the dough rises. Okay?

Baking POWDER is the combination of a compound like NaHC03 which will produce gas in the presence of an acid in solution, PLUS a "dry acid." The dry acid becomes an acid solution as soon as it gets wet. At that point the gas producing compound starts doing its work. Old fashioned biscuit and other quick bread recipes used buttermilk for the reason that its acidity reacted with the bicarb. With baking powder which contains its own acid, we no longer need to add a liquid acid; but we all like the taste of buttermilk biscuits.

SINGLE ACTING BAKING POWDER is, as described above and nothing else. Some single actings get all their lift at room temperature, and some reserve a little for heat. It depends on the nature of the two compounds. However, a good rule of thumb with all single actings is to get the dough into the oven as soon as possible after mixing in the liquid, with as little handling as possible -- so as not to give the gas time to dissipate nor squeeze it out.

DOUBLE ACTING BAKING POWDER is as described above, with the addition of a second compound which requires a significant amount of heat energy to potentiate the gas releasing reaction. Double actings give you a lot more leeway in terms of time and handling. Regarding handling -- when you first mix the dough it will feel very light as a result of the gas produced by the first gas producing compound. The more you handle it the more gas you knock out -- and it's a difference you'll feel as "heaviness." If your dough starts feeling heavy, stop fooling with it. You want to save as much gas as possible even though you're going to get more later. With biscuits, the more the better.

Get it?

post #19 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the tutorial. You all just might turn me into a baker yet!

post #20 of 27
Dalmatian biscuits?
post #21 of 27
Thread Starter 

In case anyone is interested, I thought I'd post with the results of some changes to my recipe/process I tried yesterday. I put the dry ingredients twice through an old crank-type flour sifter, (the only one we have), plus stirred them a bit afterwards. I also decreased the baking powder from 4 to 3 tps, but used the same bp and soda. Finally, I increased both the butter and the shortening to 3 Tbs each and used a pastry cutter to mix. On this last item, I'd like to comment that I've watched a lot of cooking shows where expert biscuit makers are mixing with their hands so I'm a little skeptical as to how critical the heat transfer through the hands is. In any case, I made sure the buttermilk was VERY cold when I added it and I also chilled the dough prior to working/rolling.

The spots have almost disappeared in this batch. Just a very few light ones remain. The biscuits puffed up maybe a bit more (1.75-2.0") but are also heavier. My recipe calls for them to be rolled to 1" thickness before cutting. I think this might be a little too thick because, although they are nicely browned on the outside, the middle seems just-barely-almost-not-quite done. I might also try a smaller cutter.

The other thing I think I learned is that you need to make a complete cut with the biscuit cutter. I was sort of cheating along the edges - not actually cutting through on one side of a couple of them. These seemed to open up like a clam shell when baked. Old news to most of you, I'm sure.

I think I need a different/better flour sifter, something that's easier to get the ingredients into. Thanks again.

post #22 of 27
Be interesting to see what happens when you get some fresh BP. How old is yours, anyway?

The keeping things very cold thing is about flakier biscuits. Not handling too much after adding liquid is about lighter, more tender biscuits. There's a lot of range in terms of more or less before getting to right or wrong.

Your description of getting more rise, yet heavier biscuits doesn't make a lot of sense at first blush, and would make none at all if you weren't talking about biscuits. I think you're got more loft, a more even texture, and your biscuits finished slightly damp. The first two were consequences of getting the BP/BS/flour ratio right, and sifting.

You don't really need to sift with modern flour, BTW. It's good for making sure things are thoroughly mixed, but not much else. Any air you put into the flour, you knock out when you cut in the fat. But you do need to cook your biscuits a little longer. They weren't quite done which is why they seemed heavier even though they got more rise. The extra shortening doesn't make heavier biscuits, it makes flakier biscuits.

Sounds like you're running down the home stretch. Try brushing the tops with a little buttermilk before baking and see if that doesn't get rid of the spots altogether. If you don't like buttermilk, you can brush them with a mix of melted butter and honey.

Yes to the clean cut all the way 'round, and yes we all learned it the hard way too.

post #23 of 27
Thread Starter 
My baking powder is Calumet and says July 2008 so it's not terribly old but does fall within your "6 mo. expiration" range. As far as mixing the dry ingredients is concerned, I know that you can mix them in a food processor but that seems like a lot of mess, especially since I wouldn't be using it for anything else. What about shaking everything up in a sealed container?

I had actually intended to brush them with buttermilk but I forgot. And to answer your question, who doesn't like buttermilk?

Thanks again - JAY
post #24 of 27
You can mix the dry ingredients with a fork or spoon or whatever, before cutting in the shortening. You want them fairly evenly distributed -- not perfection. The cutting in will even the distribution still farther. What I'm trying to say is the sifter is fine, and makes a slight difference to texture. But you don't need it for distribution or measuring accuracy.

Distribution -- nice but you don't need it.

Measuring accuracy -- way overrated in baking. Why? Because the moisture content of flour varies with the humidity, the way its stored, the maker etc., all measurements are inherently flawed. What you're looking for is ABOUT the right amount of leavening and seasoning for a given weight/volume of flour. Forgive me for going off on a rant, but: There is no exact right amount under normal home conditions. Those things about tamping the measuring cup down, wiping the top off with your finger, skinning the top of the tablespoon, etc., are pandering to the insecurities and OCD of old wives, and not much else.

Returning to the point, you certainly don't need to shake things up in a jar or use the processor. Your BP is old, brother. Time to put it out of your misery. 07/08 means 07/08 if that's the date you open it. It degrades more quickly once it's opened because moisture from humidity gets in there and starts to potentiate the dry acid. You'll really like fresh baking powder. Yes indeed. What you might want to try, down the line, is self-rising flour like Bisquick. I'm not sure what makes biscuits made from SR flour different, but they are. Don't worry, it's down home enough to still say "from scratch." Recipe's on the box.

This conversation got me going, my biscuits are just about ready to come out of the oven.

post #25 of 27
Thread Starter 
I know that pro bakers for the most part measure flour by weight. Seems like that would make sense and I think most of us these days have a reasonably accurate scale. But your point is that there are too many variables to worry about it with small quantities?

Does self-rising flour have the bp and/or baking soda already in it?

Which reminds me, do you (or anyone else on the list) have a good recipe for Red Lobster-style cheesy biscuits? They're a little too salty but my family all loves those.
post #26 of 27
My point was not to make yourself nuts trying to tighten down all the variables to exact torque specs. Baking -- especially breads is an inexact science.


It's available with a little Google research. There all sorts of recipe recreation sites. No doubt you'll have to evaluate a few recipes to decide which one sounds best. My wife loves cheesy biscuits. My advice is to add cheese and scallions to your favorite biscuit dough at the same time you add the liquid. About 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar, and about a table spoonful of minced scallions, per cup of flour in the dough is about right.

Another favorite addition at our house is fines herbe de Provence -- about 3/4 tsp per cup of flour. Sometimes we use fresh rosemary instead or as well. Sometimes onion and dill.

post #27 of 27
Thread Starter 
Man, these all sound good! Thanks once again.

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