Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Maryland Beaten Biscuits

Why Beat the Biscuits?
The Maryland Beaten Biscuit is a product of the days before chemical leavening agents were widely available (pre-1840s). Bakers pounded or beat the biscuit dough to introduce air into it, and the beating also served to disintegrate the dough’s protein (gluten). The extensive and exhaustive beating yields a final biscuit product that is tender, puffy, and flaky (because of all of the folding). Kneading the dough would not have been done because that would produce a chewy bread product, which was not desired for this recipe.

The earliest recipe for a beaten biscuit was published in 1824 in Mary Randolph’s, The Virginia Housewife, and it was called Apoquiniminc Cakes. In this recipe the dough is made from salt, eggs, butter, flour, and milk, and the recipe instructs the cook to beat the dough with a pestle for half an hour. Other later recipes for beaten biscuits do add baking soda or powder, which is really not needed because of the beating. Eventually, the beating was completely eliminated.

Beaten biscuits were traditionally made every day by baking them in small cast-iron bake kettles (Dutch Ovens), fried in a pan, or cooked on a griddle. These biscuits are perfect for dipping into stews and soups, or they can be split and coated with butter and jam, or filled with ham or other cold meats.

Apoquiniminc Cakes
(The earliest known published recipes for a beaten biscuit.)
Source: The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, 1824

Put a little salt, one egg beaten, and four ounces of butter, in a quart of flour; make it into a paste with new milk, beat it for half an hour with a pestle, roll the paste thin, and cut it into round cakes; bake them on a griddle and be careful not to burn them.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yields: About 21 1.5-Ounce Biscuits

4 Cups All Purpose Flour + More for the Board
1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
4 Ounces/1 Stick Salted Butter, Cut into Pieces the Size of Peas
1 Large Egg
About 1 Cup Milk


1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt.

2. Add the chopped butter to the flour and use your fingers to work it into the flour until it is distributed evenly.

3. In a small bowl, beat the egg until foamy. Add it to the flour/butter mixture.

4. Add just enough of the milk to make a dough that is smooth and not sticky.

5. Lightly flour a board and place the dough on the board. Knead the dough enough to make sure it is not sticky at all.

6. Now for the fun part: Take a rolling pin and beat the dough for 30 minutes. Turn and fold the dough often to make sure it gets beaten evenly. You will know it has been beaten enough when air bubbles come to the surface of the dough and pop or blister, and the dough will feel soft and squishy.

7. Roll the dough out and cut into circles, or pull off 1.5 ounce pieces and roll into a circle. Dock the top of each biscuit with a fork to prevent scorching during baking.

8. Baking Options: 
  • Grease a griddle with lard, shortening, or butter. Cook the biscuits in the fat until they bottoms turn golden. Turn and repeat. 
  • Or, you can bake the biscuits at 375ยบ F. until lightly golden brown and cooked throughout, about 15 minutes.

9. Serve immediately with butter, jam, apple butter, maple syrup and/or honey. These can also be eaten with soups or stews, or use them to make ham sandwiches.

Fold the dough in between beatings, every few minutes.

Notice how soft the dough looks after it has been beaten for about 20 minutes.

Notice the blistered air pockets on the dough after it has been beaten for 30 minutes.

Cutting into the dough reveals lots of air pockets!

Dock each ball of dough with a fork to prevent scorching on the top.
Maryland Beaten Biscuit Ready to Eat!

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