This easy baking powder biscuit recipe from the 1950s comes with 9 vintage tips to get them just right — and it’s easier than you think!
Nowadays, the scone-like breads are popular pretty much everywhere in the United States because of their fabulously flaky texture and buttery flavor — and the fact that you can make up a batch from scratch in just minutes.
Baking powder, a shelf-stable leavening agent made from baking soda and an acidic component (usually cream of tartar or soda alum), was invented in the mid-1800s, and was eagerly adopted by cooks looking for a quicker and more reliably successful way to make bread, rolls and cakes.
Biscuits made with that newfangled powder quickly became famous in the US, particularly in the South, where they were often served with breakfast (biscuits and gravy, anyone?) or as a side dish with dinner. (And then there were other wonderful things you could do with the dough… like make an old-fashioned monkey bread.)
Today, a good biscuit recipe is a standard in many households. We rediscovered the baking powder biscuit recipe featured below in a newspaper from 1957, and it includes some practical tips to help you get a wonderfully light and tender bread (rather than a hockey puck). You will also find a little photo tutorial from the same year that offers yet more handy advice.
Some of the suggestions you could apply to almost any biscuit recipe — whether made with butter, shortening, or even lard — maybe like that one in your old recipe box that you’ve never had much luck with.
We hope that with this retro how-to, you’ll be making these delicious 1950s-style breads in no time at all!
1950s photos: Making biscuits, step-by-step (1957)
From Better Homes & Gardens (October 1957)
STEP 1: For biscuits, cut shortening into sifted dry ingredients till the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well; add all the milk at once. Stir quickly with a fork only until dough follows fork around bowl.
STEP 2: Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. (The dough should be soft.)
Knead it gently with the heel of hand for 10 or 12 strokes (30 seconds). This makes tall, plump biscuits. Roll or pat dough out 1/2 inch thick.
STEP 3: Dip cutter in flour, then cut dough straight down (without twisting).
For crusty biscuits, place 3/4-inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. For biscuits with soft sides, place them close together.
THE RESULT: A basket full of perfectly neat baking powder biscuits (picture from 1957)
MADE WITH THIS DOUGH: Delicious old-fashioned monkey bread recipe from the 1960s, step-by-step with photos
How to make the best old-fashioned baking powder biscuits, the 1950s way
By Virginia Roeder – The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) January 28, 1957
Biscuits! Delicately browned, feathery light when broken apart, blessed with the gold of a pat of butter… touched with the amethyst of grape jelly or the ruby of raspberry jam. Who doesn’t love biscuits like these that literally melt in the mouth with the very first bite?
Your reputation as a good cook is made if you can turn out a good biscuit. Make your very own biscuits, starting from scratch, with flour, salt, baking powder, shortening and milk. Biscuit making takes care, but needn’t take much time.
A few sessions of careful, attention-to-detail biscuit-making will make this task almost automatic. Here are some shortcuts to the quickest biscuit-making ever and the best biscuits.
1. Invest in a pastry blender and use it. This handy kitchen tool is quite inexpensive, and is indispensable for quick, even blending of shortening with dry ingredients.
2. Consider using a higher proportion of shortening to flour than most recipes recommend. Six to 7 tablespoons of shortening (as in the recipe below) is much better than the 1/4 cup usually recommended for 2 cups of flour. To make your biscuits extra rich, you can again increase the amount of shortening.
3. The smaller the biscuit in diameter, the better, I think. I use a 2-inch cutter which makes a most attractive size biscuit. I abhor big 3-inch biscuits unless they’re used as a base for creamed foods.
4. Bake biscuits on the top oven rack to keep the bottoms from getting too browned.
ALSO TRY: Honey-cornmeal biscuits (1987)
5. Sift baking powder and salt with flour when measuring the first cup of sifted flour. I put about 3/4 cup flour in my hand sifter, add correct measure of baking powder and salt and sift into measuring cup. After this mixture has gone through sifter into cup, I sift more flour to make the full cup measure. Add 1 tablespoon flour extra to compensate for baking powder-salt inclusion.
6. For milk, you may use regular, evaporated (diluted with an equal amount of water), or liquefied instant nonfat dry milk.
7. Serve these biscuits with a basket or plate with a pretty napkin or bun cozy. When hot bread is done, remove at once from pans and arrange on a napkin. Bring corners of the napkin up and over the bread to keep it warm. Serve at once.
8. Some hot breads are pretty served right in the dish in which they were baked — they stay hot longer that way, too. To serve them piping hot, bake biscuits in an oven-safe glass pie plate or baking dish. Rush them to the table in the same dish, and place on a heatproof trivet or potholder.
9. Serve biscuits hot. If necessary, let the guests wait for the biscuits — but never let your biscuits wait for your guests.
Biscuits: A longtime southern specialty (1959)
From The Record-Democrat (Wagoner, Oklahoma) January 29, 1959
Do you remember the era before canned biscuits? Almost as rare as a live dinosaur is the homemaker who makes biscuits three times a day, every day. Time was in the South when biscuits were no surprise — they were a necessity.
There are various types of biscuits. Many biscuit eaters prefer the tender, satisfying goodness of a buttermilk biscuit made with home-churned buttermilk with chunks of butter in it. Some like a big, high biscuit with a crusty top and bottom, and plenty of soft middle to soak up the butter. Others like a thin biscuit baked with a hard brown crust like a shell.
Some bake them close together for soft sides, others set apart for an all-around crust. As to size, there is the large boarding-house size, and there is medium size, and the tiny tea biscuits for dainty ladies.
The buttermilk biscuit is best with cold ingredients and a very hot oven. They must be served immediately. If they don’t melt the butter, “they aren’t fitten’ to eat.” No self-respecting Southerner would eat a warm biscuit — they must be too hot to handle.
No canned biscuit could compete with these tempting morsels. Most cooks had a second pan baking while the first were being eaten. Many girls won husbands by baking good biscuits.
ANOTHER SOUTHERN FAVORITE: Fried green tomatoes & more: 12 old-fashioned recipes for green tomatoes
1950s flavor variations for these biscuits
1. Bacon biscuits. Dice 2 to 3 strips of bacon. Pan-fry and drain. Add to flour-shortening mixture.
2. Chive biscuits are the perfect accompaniment to a green garden salad. Just add 1/4 cup of freshly-snipped chives to the flour-shortening mixture.
3. Ham biscuits. Add 2 cups of the chopped cooking ham before adding milk.
4. Parsley biscuits. Add 1/2 cup of snipped parsley before adding milk for a cheerful, color-flecked biscuit.
5. Orange tea biscuits. Press a lump of sugar dipped in orange juice into the top of each biscuit. Sprinkle with grated orange rind and bake.
6. Mint biscuits. Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped mint to the flour-shortening mixture. (These are very good with lamb stew.)