This old-fashioned baking powder biscuit recipe from the 1950s turns out delicious every time

Old-fashioned baking powder biscuit recipe on a cooling rack

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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!

It may surprise you to know that baking powder biscuits have a history only dating back to the mid-19th century! They originated as a quick and easy alternative to traditional yeast-raised rolls or bread, which needed time to rise.

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.

Antique Victorian baking powder ads from the 1800s
Antique Victorian baking powder ads from the 1800s

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.

Southern-style biscuit made with baking powder
Picture by Stephanie Frey/Deposit Photos

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!

ALSO SEE: Queen Elizabeth’s drop scones recipe that she gave to President Eisenhower (1960)

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.

1950s way to make baking powder biscuit dough

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.

Gently kneading biscuit dough (1957)

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.

1950s photo Making biscuits, step-by-step - Cutting

THE RESULT: A basket full of perfectly neat baking powder biscuits (picture from 1957)

Real old-fashioned photo of baking powder biscuits 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.

Flour and pastry blender tool for baking powder biscuit recipe
Use a pastry blender for the best results. (Photo by Charlotte Lake/Envato)

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)

Old-fashioned baking powder biscuits - Ready to bake
Picture by Stephanie Frey/Deposit Photos

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.

Old-fashioned baking powder biscuits freshly baked
Picture by Stephanie Frey/Deposit Photos

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

Old-fashioned baking powder biscuit recipe on a cooling rack

Old-fashioned baking powder biscuit recipe

Yield: Makes about 19 2" biscuits
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes


  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 to 7 tablespoons shortening
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup milk


  1. Preheat oven 450 degrees F.
  2. Into bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt.
  3. With pastry blender or 2 knives, used scissor-fashion, cut in shortening until mixture is like coarse corn meal.
  4. Make well in center; pour in 1/2 cup milk.
  5. With fork, mix lightly and quickly. Add enough more milk to form dough that's just moist enough to leave sides of bowl and cling to fork as ball.
  6. Turn onto lightly floured surface.
  7. Knead this way: Pick up side of dough farthest from you; fold over toward you; with palms, press down, pushing dough away lightly. Turn dough around part way; repeat process 6 or 7 times, working gently.
  8. Lightly roll dough out from center, lifting rolling pin as you near edges. Roll dough 1/2" to 3/4" thick for high, fluffy biscuits, 1/4" for thin crusty ones.
  9. With floured 2" biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits, using a straight — not twisting — motion, and cutting biscuits as close together as possible. Between cuttings, dip cutter into flour.
  10. With spatula, lift biscuits to ungreased baking sheet. Place about 1" apart for crusty biscuits, or nearly touching for soft-sided ones.
  11. Lightly press dough trimmings together; roll and cut as before.
  12. With pastry brush, brush biscuit tops with milk, melted butter or margarine, or light cream.
  13. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until delicate brown. Serve hot.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 19 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 94Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 192mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.

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.)

ALSO TRY: Potato corn triangle biscuits: A quick retro recipe made with instant mashed potatoes

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