The biscuit method, where cold solid fats (usually butter or shortening) are cut into the dry ingredients until a crumble-like texture forms, is useful to achieve a flaky, crumbly texture. The biscuit method is used not only in biscuits, but in pie crusts, scones and streusel toppings.
How it works : Unlike in the creaming method, the fat is not evenly dispersed and small pockets or chunks of butter are visible in the dry ingredients. During baking, these lumps of fat will melt and create steam, allowing for flaky layers to form between strands of gluten.
Useful for: Pie crusts, scones, streusel topping.
Tools/equipment: A fork, small spatula, pastry cutter or food processor.
Steps: The idea here is to break up the fat into the dry ingredients (some sifted combination of flour, salt, sugar, and chemical leavener) without melting the fat or overmixing. If you’re using butter, make sure that it is cubed and chilled. Shortening, I’ve found, does not need to be chilled before using.
Almost every baking blog/cookbook will tell you to stop when “pea sized lumps” appear in the dry ingredients, so use that as a point of reference for not overmixing. So stop when it looks like this:
At this point, you can use your hands to make a ball of dough in the bowl, but even here, make sure not to overwork the dough. Alternately, you can turn out the un-kneaded dough onto a floured surface and proceed to shape the dough form there.
Practice the Biscuit Method with any of these recipes: