Does It Actually Matter What Kind Of Fat You Use For Biscuits?

If there's one component that's synonymous with flavor, it's fat. For a classic Southern biscuit, fat is not only the key to its rich, comforting taste, but it's also key in dictating texture. While you can use lard, duck fat, shortening, butter, or even coconut oil in a biscuit recipe, the kind of fat you use will have very different effects on the crumb and flavor of your biscuit.

Lard was the original fat in southern recipes as it was more readily available than butter. Lard has a distinct flavor which provides an underlying umami savoriness from the pork. Duck fat is much less common but certainly provides the most unique and decadent taste. Shortening has the most neutral flavor of the bunch while still bestowing the richness you need from fat. Coconut oil is similarly neutral but has a slightly sweet finish. All of these fats are pure fat, which creates a denser yet still tender crumb.

In contrast, butter consists of milk solids and fat. The mixture of fat and sugar from the milk solids aids in the balance of caramelized and savory flavors while also ensuring more moisture and browning than pure fat alone. Biscuits made with butter also rise higher and offer a flakier crumb; consider the effect of butter in famously flakey croissants and other pastry dough desserts.

To optimize flavor and texture, you can use two different fats, like lard and butter. Just ensure the proportion of fat, flour, and liquid remains the same.

Fat and liquid: a very important duo

The type of fat you choose affects a biscuit's texture and flavor, but fat isn't the only factor to consider. The liquid you choose to pair with the desired fat will also have a drastic effect on the final product. Buttermilk is the most widely used liquid in Southern-style biscuits, providing a nice tangy complement to the richness of fat while also aiding in the fluffiness of the crumb. However, you can also use regular half-and-half, cream, or even sour cream.

Buttermilk is the gold standard for most Southern recipes, no matter what fat you use because the acidity will also react best with leavening agents to help the biscuits rise. Sour cream has a similar tanginess to buttermilk and a thicker, creamier effect on the biscuit dough.

Heavy cream is so rich and delicious that it can substitute fat altogether. It's even inspired its own category of biscuits, often made with just cream and self-rising flour. If you use it in addition to fat, a more neutral-flavored fat like coconut oil or shortening would benefit from its richness and result in a melt-in-your-mouth crumb.