Southern cooks have several tricks when it comes to making tender and delicious biscuits, from the cutters they use, to the type and amount of liquid incorporated, to the number of kneads required to turn out a perfect dough. The not-so-secret ingredient they rely upon is soft wheat flour. Soft wheat thrives in temperate, moist climates like that of the mid-Atlantic, so cooks in those areas have had access to its special flour for a long time.
Why Is Soft Wheat Flour So Magical?
It all comes down to gluten. Gluten is the material that gives things like breads and cakes their elasticity and structure, and it gets formed when water mixes with flour and causes the proteins to bond together. So, since hard wheat flour (bread flour) has about twice as much protein as soft wheat flour, it will yield more gluten and make a chewier final product. That does not make a tender biscuit!
With less protein and therefore weaker gluten formation, soft wheat is ideal for making biscuits and other items with a delicate texture. It gets milled into pastry flour, which is composed of 9-10% protein, giving it slightly more strength than cake flour (ideal for fine-crumbed cakes and muffins) but making it less sturdy than bread or all-purpose flour, which make wonderfully chewy breads. The gluten formed from the use of pastry flour yields a flaky biscuit with just the right amount of structure.
The Brand You Should Buy
Interestingly, the go-to product for Southern biscuits is an all-purpose flour made by White Lily, though it is essentially pastry flour because it has a very low protein content. If you can’t find White Lily or any pastry flour at your grocery store, you can make your own version with equal parts cake flour and all-purpose flour. Bear in mind that even armed with the magic of pastry flour, making flawless biscuits takes an incredible amount of experience. This is a case where practice truly makes perfect!
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