10 Creative Ways To Upgrade Biscuits

Baker and chef Erika Council never thought she'd open Bomb Biscuits, the restaurant based in Atlanta that, per Atlanta Magazine, sells "pretty much the finest version of what a buttermilk biscuit should be." The restaurant industry is grueling — she knew this firsthand as Southern cooking legend Mildred Council's granddaughter. But while opening a brick-and-mortar never enticed Council, neither did she underestimate the power of great food. "I saw just really how African Americans use food to, you know, build churches and send kids to school and things," the chef told Tasting Table. "For me, food was always a way of nourishment — but also mobilization."

Surprise! The biscuit master actually prefers cornbread to biscuits in the quickbread hierarchy. Biscuits, however, were much more than simply scone-like pastries for Council. Firstly, they were undisputable symbols of prowess in the kitchen. Growing up, even though everyone in Council's family could cook, she told us that "the ones who could really cook made the best biscuits, and I just knew I wanted to be that person." Secondly, biscuits brought happiness, Council remembered, "And I just wanted to be able to bring that same amount of joy to any table I joined." Council's latest endeavor, a biscuit-baking cookbook entitled "Still We Rise," is nothing if not a testament to her passion. In the meantime, she's given us an exclusive taste of her joy-bringing, biscuit-baking genius with creative ways to upgrade the iconic southern quickbread.

1. Make your biscuits kid-friendly with chocolate chips

Simple, sweet, and timeless — the best-selling biscuits at Bomb Biscuits in Atlanta among little ones are chocolate chip. When working with sweet chips, the name of the game is mixing and matching. Dark chocolate, for example, makes for a great alternative to milk chips, and combining sweet chips with nuts or dried fruits (like cranberry raisins, which, Council says, "burst with flavor" once soaked) adds texture and complexity to your biscuits. Here's a hot tip from a pro baker: One of Council's favorite nut-chip combos is butterscotch and pecan. "It sounds crazy, but it literally tastes like a scone," she told us.

Feel free to use your favorite biscuit recipe when folding in chips, dried fruits, and nuts. Council, however, prefers a buttermilk biscuit for such additives. "They all work, but the buttermilk biscuit is typically my go-to one for folding, especially chocolates and things like that, because it already has a bit of a saltiness to it that hits with the chocolate," the biscuit master explained. Fold your chips and such into the batter after it's already come together. After your first dough roll, sprinkle chips, nuts, or dried fruits, onto the dough before folding the dough back over. Proceed by cutting your biscuits "either in squares or with a biscuit cutter." Your additives will cook between the layers.

2. Add herbs for savory surprises

For savory biscuits with bursts of flavor, try folding in fresh herbs — or your preferred mix of herbs — into your biscuit recipe of choice. Council herself is partial to rosemary and includes a must-try recipe for rosemary orange cream biscuits — made with heavy cream and fresh orange juice — in "Still We Rise." Generally, heavy cream biscuits are a superb canvas for folding in fresh herbs, but they're far from the only biscuit base that is delicious when herbed up. Why not try a corn milk biscuit recipe, which, as the biscuit chef writes, can be "jazzed up" with mint, parsley, or basil?

Last but not least, no herby-biscuit escapade would be complete without considering a sour cream biscuit base. When combined with baking soda, sour cream's high acidity will help your biscuits rise, as Council's cookbook reminds us. Not only this, but the baker assures us that the "tang" that sour cream lends to biscuits is a mouthwatering complement to your herb of choice, and also combines spectacularly with fresh onions, dried onions, or chives.

3. A cinnamon and sugar topping is a crowd-pleaser

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal lovers, this one is for you. For a quick, sweet crowd-pleaser, baste your biscuits with buttermilk and cover them with a two-part sugar, one-part cinnamon mix before sticking them in the oven. "Once you bake them in the oven, it gives [your biscuits] this very crunchy taste," Council says, which she promises us is strikingly similar to the iconic breakfast cereal. Bakers with sweet teeth might consider serving cinnamon sugar-topped biscuits with a quality fruit jam. (At Bomb Biscuits, Council and her team serve theirs with pineapple, should you be searching for inspiration.)

If you're out of buttermilk to baste your biscuits with, don't stress. You can substitute your buttermilk for whole milk, but preferably not with butter, says Council. "Milks give you a sort of glossier brown [finish] ... a different level of brownness on the top than butter," the pro biscuit baker explained. There is, naturally, a place and a time for butter in biscuit baking. You'll likely use it liberally to make the dough itself, and you're welcome to top your biscuits with butter after — but not before — they come out of the oven.

4. Go cheesy with a melted cheddar topping

This you shall learn: cheese is to biscuits as chicken is to waffles, as coffee is to donuts, as fish is to chips. (Need we go on?) To find your optimal cheese and biscuit combo, consider just how cheesy you'd like your biscuit to be. A full-on cheese experience will necessitate incorporating the milk product directly into your biscuit dough. To do so, add your cheese of choice, shredded, int to your dry ingredients before mixing dry and wet together. For the record, Council advises thinly-shredded varieties for this purpose. As the biscuit expert explained, a feather-thin shred will "melt so differently between the layers" of a biscuit than thicker shreds, and result in a biscuit infused with cheese instead of "pockets" of melted cheese in your biscuit.

To add extra cheese to already cheesy biscuits, or to make biscuits with a whisper of cheese, top your finished biscuits off with it before they go into the oven. As when making cinnamon sugar biscuits, brush your dough with whole milk or buttermilk and then sprinkle on your shredded cheese of choice to create a cheesy crust. While smoked gouda or parmesan cheese work great for such purposes, Council says she stands by sharp cheddar.

5. Opt for a hybrid pretzel biscuit

A word to the wise before we hype you up too much: pretzel-biscuit hybrids should not survive to become leftovers. As Erika Council puts it, "after a couple of hours, it's not gonna be anything you wanna re-serve." Plan to make a reduced batch of them accordingly. Don't, however, skip out on this recipe because of its leftover limitations. Not only are the pretzel biscuit hybrids "phenomenal," per Council, but they also make for "one of the best sandwiches" she's ever eaten.

Succeeding at these biscuits is only a little more time-consuming than topping your biscuits with sugar and cinnamon. You'll create the hybrid by topping your prepared biscuit dough with a homemade pretzel wash — a mix of baking soda, egg, and water — instead of buttermilk. After sprinkling the wash with coarse pretzel salt, the biscuits will come out of the oven with a "glossy pretzel sheen" and its top, says Council, will taste "like a salty, tangy biscuit." For an unforgettable sandwich experience, Council suggests serving them fresh with mustard and a griddled sausage — whether spicy or smoked.

6. Elevate your biscuit with everything bagel seasoning

Good friends, we've entered the territory of biscuit sandwiches and will not depart until we explore the wonders of everything bagel toppings. Buy a pre-mix if you're short on time, or home-make an everything bagel seasoning with sesame seed, poppy seeds, onion, garlic, and — for spice aficionados, only — a bit of cayenne pepper. If you've been following along so far, you've likely guessed the next step, correctly. Brush your biscuits with buttermilk, before sprinkling the seasoning on top of them, and sticking them in the oven. Et voilá! You've not only seasoned the top of your biscuits but also their doughy insides. Per Erika Council, during the baking process, the "garlic and onion flavor kind of seeps into the biscuit as it cooks."

These biscuits are — unlike the previously discussed pretzel hybrids — quite leftover-friendly. They're also (go figure) great with anything you'd traditionally top an everything bagel with. At Bomb Biscuits, Council says, customers prefer theirs with salmon, cream cheese, and red onions, or, as a simpler combo, topped with eggs and tomatoes.

7. Mix savory components into your dry ingredients before adding fats and milk

Think of your dry ingredients mix as a drawing board for texture, flavor, and color. Cheese is far from the only additive you can mix into your dry biscuit ingredients before incorporating the wet. Meaty and spicey additions also make for creative biscuit upgrades and are consistently best sellers at Bomb Biscuits, Erika Council affirmed. "I'd say the most popular two biscuits outside of the plain buttermilk biscuit at the restaurant are the cheddar jalapeño and a black pepper bacon," the biscuit legend told us.

To copycat Council's cheddar jalapeño biscuits, mix shredded cheddar and jarred jalapeños into your dry ingredients before adding in your fats and milk. "Proceed in making the biscuits the way you would if there was nothing in them," Council says. An extra touch of cayenne pepper will up the spice level and other spicy peppers make great substitutes for jalapeños if the spirit moves. Meat lovers will want to try out Council's black pepper bacon biscuits, for which you'll want to cook the bacon (but not crisp it), chop it up, and then mix it into your dry ingredients with black pepper, chives, and cheese. Bacon skeptics can swap the meat for sausage or chorizo, says Council. As previously described with the cheddar jalapeño biscuits, fold your meat, chives, and cheese in your wet ingredients, and bake as normal.

8. Convert your biscuit into bread pudding

Got neutral or sweet biscuit leftovers? Rejoice at the opportunity knocking at your oven door. You can salvage (or dare we say, upgrade?) leftover biscuits by baking them into a sweet bread pudding. Biscuits, per Erika Council, are especially exceptional bread pudding materials because they "really absorb the egg and give you a super custardy-buttery base." As you would with stale bread, throw your old biscuits into a mixture of eggs, milk, and bread pudding spices (like vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and set your kitchen timer for a rich, custardy dessert. 

You can achieve extra layers of flavor and sweetness, Council suggests, by adding fruits like peaches or apples to your biscuit bread pudding before it hits the oven. When fresh fruit is hard to come by, consider combining the pudding with a homemade sauce. Take the whisky cream sauce — made from heavy cream, sugar, unsalted butter, and bourbon — in the biscuit master's cookbook, "Still We Rise," as inspiration. 

9. Take your biscuits to new levels with cantaloupe jam

A great homemade fruit spread can heighten flavors and enhance textures in a biscuit, like a high-quality frosting can in a vanilla cake. Erika Council is partial to uniform spreads that infuse themselves into biscuits, and give you an experience all their own. "It's not biscuits and jam," she explains. "It's a jam-biscuit."

During apple season, don't miss out on making apple butter, Council's personal favorite spread. "It's super sentimental to me. Every time I eat it I just go to feel some type of way, because that is definitely one that I ate a lot in my childhood and nearly everyone made," she told us. If it's melon season, on the other hand, try your hand at a cantaloupe jam. This spread, which Council's Aunt Mabel first introduced her to, is a mix of boiled cantaloupe, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, vanilla, and berbere. Prepare for a surprise. It "tastes nothing like cantaloupe," Council told us, but has, instead a "super spicy, warm sweetness," that "just sort of melts into the biscuit."

10. Turn your biscuit into a cake

Can't decide between a biscuit and a cake? Meet cream biscuits — you're new best friend. The cream biscuit base that this hybrid calls for is made of self-rising flour, heavy whipping cream, and sugar, and is unquestionably easier to put together than many simple cake recipes. What you do with the batter (or dough?) will define how cake-like or how biscuit-like your final dish is.

If you're more team-biscuit than team-cake, consider option one. Bake your biscuits individually, and top them with fresh fruits and cream, for cake-biscuit hybrid desserts. You can also, per Erika Council, incorporate fruit directly into your cake biscuit by spreading a compote onto rolled-out biscuit batter, folding it over, and baking it into squares. Do cakes normally beat out biscuits for you? In that case, consider option two. Bake your cream biscuit batter — as Council's aunt used to — in a circular cake pan, add fruit compote to the middle, and top it with whipped cream before slicing and serving. "It was just phenomenal," Council remembered. "It was always a summer treat everybody looked forward to."