A few years ago, my husband began making biscuits on Saturday mornings. Although not all of his efforts have been equally delicious, our family loves starch in nearly all of its forms, so we were happy to eat up the not-so-great batches to make room on the table for the even better batches to come.
With one exception. The one and only batch of biscuits so horrible no amount of bacon could save them tasted like fluffy metal.
By an odd coincidence the Morning of the Metal Biscuits also happened to be the first time my husband had baked his biscuits in a cast iron pan, so of course, I blamed the cookware. My husband was having none of it. “Cast iron is the only proper pan for baking biscuits. I bet it was the baking powder.”
Reader, it was the baking powder, but not in the way you think
Using too much baking powder can make your biscuits taste bitter. The web is full of horror stories about cooks learning this the hard way.
But bitter isn’t quite the same as metallic. And my husband hadn’t changed his normal recipe. He’d used the same amount of baking powder as he always did.
So why did the recipe that had worked so well the week before fail on the Morning of the Metal Biscuits?
It turns out the type of baking powder you use matters a lot. In the intervening week, I had happened to notice that we were running low on baking powder. Knowing this to be a key biscuit ingredient, I tossed a can of Clabber Girl baking powder in the cart along with some fresh buttermilk in anticipation of a delicious Saturday morning.
And that’s how I learned that not all baking powders are created equal
I grew up using Clabber Girl in my chocolate chip cookies and quick breads, and have never been disappointed in the results. But that morning I learned the hard way that what works for cookies and sweet breads doesn’t always work for buttermilk biscuits.
The problem isn’t the brand, it’s the aluminum. The baking powder my husband buys, Rumford, is aluminum free. Clabber Girl, sadly, is not. Honestly, I’d always written this off as just one of the ways we were different. A Heinz vs. Hunt’s ketchup sort of thing. He always bought the Rumford in the red can, I always bought the Clabber Girl in the white. Whatever. It’s just baking powder.
On that Saturday morning, I, and my husband, fervently wished that I had taken a moment to think through the implications of his baking powder preferences a bit more carefully. Although he cooks most of our dinners, my husband doesn’t actually do much baking. He pretty much only makes biscuits, which don’t have a bunch of chocolate chips in them to mask the metallic flavor, so the aluminum content really matters. I don’t know how much aluminum gets used to make baking powder, but however much it is, it’s clearly enough to take over the entire biscuit.
In the meantime, I’m tucking this recipe for homemade baking powder into my web pocket for the next time we run out of the aluminum-free stuff.
Bonus: When it comes to making biscuits, does every ingredient really matter?
In the course of researching this post, I stumbled across the Science of Biscuits on Instructables. In this glorious post, Solobo systematically changes various aspects of biscuit-making to determine whether or not they actually affect biscuit flavor. His experiments to determine the optimal amount of baking powder were naturally the ones I read first. But the rest of the post is pretty interesting too, and shattered more than one of my biscuit-making expectations.
Apparently, not only is it possible to churn out a perfectly edible biscuit using only water, you can also make one using margarine. I am not even going to address the notion that you can swap in cream cheese for the fat, because this paragraph is challenging enough for my husband to countenance already.
Victory Garden Update
I have commandeered my daughter’s little red wagon. I’m planting the first batch of flowers, herbs, and vegetables today.
- Recipe for homemade baking powder (Epicurious)
- The Science of Biscuits (Instructables)
- Why do my muffins taste metallic? (Smitten Kitchen)
- Tips for better biscuits (King Arthur Flour, biscuit baker beware — this author likes her biscuits flaky, not fluffy)
- What’s making my muffins and biscuits taste bitter? (kitchn)
- You are making your biscuits wrong (New York Times Magazine, may be behind a paywall depending on how many other articles you’ve read there this month)