Beaten Biscuits

These traditional Southern biscuits date back to the days before baking powder and baking soda were available. Pearlash, which was used as the main leavener at the time, gave biscuits a bitter taste. Cooks found that by pounding and folding unleavened biscuit dough enough times, tiny air pockets formed in the dough and leavened it.

When the biscuits were baked the air pockets expanded and caused the biscuits to rise without the bitter taste of pearlash.

Over the years, various implements have been used to beat the dough: hammers, wooden mallets, the flat of an axe, old axe handles, flatirons and heavy wooden dowels. Chances are you have just the right tool lying around the house somewhere.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lard or solid vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup cold milk

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt, tossing with a fork to blend. Add lard or shortening and butter; work fat into flour mixture with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in center of mixture and add milk; stir to combine well. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 3 or 4 times until dough holds together. Preheat oven to 400F . Grease baking sheet; set aside. Pat out dough about 1 inch thick and begin to beat it, using a wooden mallet or other implement, with a gentle, rhythmic motion. When entire surface has been well beaten, fold dough in half and repeat the process. Continue to beat and fold until dough is well blistered (20 to 30 minutes). Roll out dough 1/2 inch thick and cut into rounds with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter; reroll and cut scraps. Repeat until all dough has been used. Prick top of each biscuit 3 times with a fork. Place biscuits on greased baking sheet; bake in preheated oven until golden brown (20 to 25 minutes). Serve hot.

Makes about 24 biscuits.

3 Comments so far »

  1. Kitty McFarland said

    November 17 2008 @ 12:30 pm

    Hi, I was glad to find a recipe, which is “a little” easier (I hope) than mine. I have inherited a wringer washer type contraption that my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother used for making beaten biscuits. We used to roll to dough (folding over each time)through the wringer at least 100 times before it was judged to be ready. The contraption could be attached to a table or pull out carving board. My mother had help everyday and that was one of her jobs along with her 4 children so the job was done without anyone of us wearing out. Always the biscuits were made for parties using country ham that we cured ourselves.

  2. Beaten Biscuits from the South | said

    September 10 2010 @ 8:15 am

    […] Back before baking powder was a common kitchen staple, these biscuits were beaten with a mallet or rolling pin to get the dough to blister.  The little blister air pockets helped the dough rise.  But, in this recipe, we’ll cheat a bit and add some baking powder.  For more traditional beaten biscuits visit Chef Rick’s Southern Cooking. […]

  3. Connie Miller said

    January 7 2013 @ 6:49 am

    I’ve not heard of BEATEN BISCUITS from the south, till my book club; The Sangria Sisters started reading SAVING CEE CEE HONEYCUTT. In the book, the southern cook made beaten biscuits, and the process was shared.

    I love to bake but not sure I can hold up for 30 minutes of beating! I found a recipe that calls for using a food processor, but I want to see if all that beating is worth it first.

    Thanks for the recipe.

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