Southern cooks have several tricks up their sleeves when it comes to making tender and delicious biscuits, from the type and amount of liquid incorporated to the number of kneads required to turn out a perfect dough. One 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 ready access to its special flour for a long time.
So why is soft wheat flour so magical when it comes to making biscuits? Simply put, it all comes down to gluten. Gluten is the material that gives things like breads and cakes their elasticity and structure, and it forms when water mixes with flour and causes the proteins to bond together. Because 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! Look out for these 12 other baking mistakes you didn’t know you were making.
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 to 10 percent 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.
Interestingly, the go-to product for many Southern cooks is this all-purpose flour made by White Lily, though it is essentially pastry flour because it has a very low protein content. You can also try making your own version with equal parts cake flour and all-purpose flour. Bear in mind that even with the magic of pastry flour, making flawless biscuits takes an incredible amount of experience. This is a case in which practice truly makes perfect! Plus, don’t miss these 15 secret pantry ingredients that will make your recipes better.