IT’S NO MYSTERY THAT SOUTHERNERS LOVE BISCUITS—buttermilk, laminated, cat head, sweet, savory, and everything in between. Beaten biscuits aren’t quite as well-known as other beloved varieties, but these dense, cracker-like bakes are worth a try.
The typical ingredients in beaten biscuits are simple—flour, salt, lard, and cold water. But the method for adding rise to the dough, when leaveners weren’t readily available in the 19th century, is where the moniker and hard work came in.
It was often enslaved cooks who prepared the dough and then repeatedly folded and beat the dough on a hard surface, often outdoors, for up to an hour and a half using a rolling pin or even a hammer or an axe handle until the dough blistered and layers in the dough were created. Once in the oven, the layers would rise slightly and steam was released through holes poked in the biscuit tops with a fork.
They were baked until almost dry to extend the shelf life, creating the characteristic crisp outside and tender inside. Eventually, machines called biscuit brakes were created for home kitchens; the dough was kneaded by steel rollers operated by a crank for feeding the dough through. Nowadays, food processors make baking these biscuits attainable, and they’re often enjoyed floated atop soup because they don’t easily crumble and get soggy or as the perfect canvas for a good old-fashioned ham biscuit.
Similar in flavor to oyster crackers, only three simple ingredients are needed to whip up these crispy-on-the-outside bakes.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
- ⅔ cup cold water
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In the work bowl of a food processor, add flour and salt; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture is crumbly. With processor running, slowly add ⅔ cup cold water until dough clumps together, about 1 minute. (Dough will be elastic and sticky.)
- On a lightly floured surface, knead dough together a few times to form a smooth ball. Beat with a rolling pin to 1-inch thickness. Fold in half and beat to 1-inch thickness again. Repeat 3 more times. Roll to ½-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round cutter dipped in flour, cut into 12 biscuits, kneading and rerolling scraps once. Place biscuits on prepared pan 1 inch apart. Pierce the top of each biscuit 3 times with a fork dipped in flour.
- Bake until slightly puffed and very lightly browned with firm edges, about 50 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.