The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The mystery of the ghost biscuit

Erzsebet Gilbert's picture
Erzsebet Gilbert

The mystery of the ghost biscuit

This isn't a problem - it's just a big conundrum to me, and I'm simply wondering whether anybody can solve it...

The other day, I asked my husband what sort of bread he'd like for me to make the most.  He said a regular loaf - but salty! extra salt!  So I warned him that salt can kill yeast, and at best we'd have a very slow rise, but he said he didn't care - just salty!  (For safety's sake I made another loaf, the same recipe but without extra salt, too!)

So I went ahead with it - taking a basic loaf recipe with white flour, water, scalded milk, butter, sugar - but I upped the salt to about 4 or 5%.  Like I had predicted, the rise was extremely slow and small, both in the dough and the final proof.  I went ahead and popped it in the oven with steam, and it turned out to have excellent oven spring and a nice soft gold crust.  We were pleased.  

But upon the tasting - it was salty enough, perfectly so - but for reasons I simply can't explain, it tasted exactly like the breakfast biscuits we've had in a diner in the United States!  The other loaf tasted like a normal bread.  

Where did the biscuity flavor come from???  Spooky!  I just can't figure it out!  Any hints, ideas?  Thanks!

Yerffej's picture

I would think that he use of milk, butter, sugar, and lots of salt would produce exactly what you described.  A "normal bread" for me has flour, water, salt and yeast.

As a side note, it is the overuse of extra ingredients in American breads that first motivated me to make my own.


flournwater's picture

I  tend to agree with Jeff.  While you can certainly prepare a loaf from enriched/fortified dough, your formula describes a biscuit dough more closely than a typical artisan bread dough.  One biscuit ingredient that is missing from you list of ingredients is, of course, baking soda/baking powder (sodium bicarbonate).  I suspect the added salt simply provided the additional sodium influence that you might normally expect in a biscuit.

Erzsebet Gilbert's picture
Erzsebet Gilbert

no, it wasn't supposed to be a real artisan bread - I only use flour, water, yeast, salt for those, i.e. magic ciabatta - but this was meant for turkey sandwiches and jam...

Ford's picture

Not sodium carbonate.  The chemist in me will not let you get by with that.

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as sodium hydrogen carbonate.

Washing soda is sodium carbonate and much more basic (alkaline) than baking soda.

American biscuits also have much more fat than loaf bread and, usually,no yeast.  They are not kneaded.

Try this recipe:


1 cup (4.3 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2  tspn. salt
1 tspn. double acting baking powder
1/2  tspn. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
1/4  cup (1.8 oz.) Earth Balance Shortening (or other solid shortening)
1/2 cup (3 oz.) buttermilk
*Note: Butter, margarine, and “spreads” all contain water, as much as 15 to 30%, or even more.  Consider this, if you substitute these for shortening.  Earth Balance Shortening contains no “trans-fats” and makes the best biscuits, in my opinion.  This shortening must be refrigerated and note the container has only 15 oz, not a full 16 oz.  Not all groceries carry it, but Whole Foods does.  Crisco shortening now has no trans-fats, does not need to be refrigerated, and may be substituted for Earth Balance.

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Sift together the dry ingredients.  (Baking soda tends to have clumps.)  Then add the shortening in teaspoon size bits.  With the fingers of one hand, mix the shortening with the dry ingredients, then mash and rub the shortening with the dry ingredients to form thin flakes of shortening covered with flour.

Add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients and lightly stir the ingredients; dough should be slightly sticky.  Add more buttermilk, if necessary.  Place on a floured surface and sprinkle dough lightly with flour.  Flatten the dough with a floured hand to about 3/8 to 1/2  inch thickness. (If you use only one hand, the other will be clean for handling other things in the kitchen.)  Fold double four times, flattening after each fold.  Cut with 2 inch diameter biscuit cutter, straight down and do not twist.  Should make about eight biscuits.  Place biscuits on ungreased, or slightly greased, baking sheet or other suitable pan.  King Arthur bakers claim that freezing cut biscuits for a half hour before baking will make them flakier.  (It doesn’t hurt them, and I have frozen them for several days with good results.  Ford.)

Bake until brown, about 12 - 14 minutes.  If you use a forced convection oven reduce the temperature to 400°F and bake 9 to 10 minutes, or until brown.  Serve hot with real butter and honey, preserves, marmalade, etc.


flournwater's picture

Sorry, Ford; you're correct of course.  Thanks for correcting that.  Now you know why I didn't get very good marks in chemistry class.  Those prefixes always drove me nuts.  Now that my hearing is not what it used to be I have to be careful not to confuse things like "vasoline" with "gasoline"  ;>)  It's a dangerous world.

jbaudo's picture

I could be wrong but I think that the "biscuity flavor" came from the salt itself.  Most biscuits at resturants and diners are brushed liberally with salted butter (or very salty imitiation butter wannabe - which is what we used when I worked for a resturant) before they are baked.  This gives them that signature taste that we are all familar with in a biscuit.  So slather on some butter and enjoy your biscuity bread, I know I would.  This reminds me of one of my favorite recipes for olive oil salt bread (or biscuits depending on what you want).  I think I need to go make some now, yum.


mrfrost's picture

King Arthur has a biscuit recipe that uses baking powder and yeast.

They call them angel biscuits.

Erzsebet Gilbert's picture
Erzsebet Gilbert

I didn't make angel biscuits... was it a goblin biscuit? :)

Erzsebet Gilbert's picture
Erzsebet Gilbert

Thanks to everybody for help in solving my case!  And now I'm excited to make real biscuits, not spooky biscuits... thanks for the recipe!  And all the tips!