Breakfast

The Surprising, Unorthodox Ingredient for Loftier, Fluffier Biscuits

February  2, 2017

I am neither a Southerner nor a biscuit analyst, yet this Instagram from Tom Hirschfeld gave even me pause: an egg in biscuit dough?! Is this proper?

(Spoiler alert: I couldn't determine propriety, but I did test the effect of an egg. Click here to skip to those results.)

For Tom's ideal biscuits—high risers that fan apart in layers (as opposed to crumbling in a soft, squat tenderness)—he adds an egg to the dough and bakes at a lower temperature (375° F).

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I couldn't find much precedent for the addition of an egg: not in Alton Brown's biscuits, nor in Edna Lewis', Deb Perelman's, Saveur's, ChefSteps', Bon Appétit's, King Arthur Flour's, Southern Living's, Mark Bittman's, Blackberry Farm's, Beth Kirby's...

A preview of what's to come—read on!

I did find buttermilk biscuits that incorporated egg, however, from Ina Garten and Serious Eats. And while Ina doesn't give much explanation for her egg inclusion, Serious Eats' Marissa Sertich Velie cites several reasons. Eggs, Velie explains,...

  • Create a richer flavor
  • Work in tandem with the baking powder to leaven the biscuits for extra height
  • Tenderize (due to the added fat in the yolk)
  • Contribute to a more golden-brown color (the additional protein contributes to the Maillard reaction)

The comments section on the Serious Eats article reveal some befuddlement—"And eggs? Whoever heard of such non-sense..."—but also some gratitude—"I found the egg in the biscuit batter odd at first until it was the only way my biscuits turned out right."

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Top Comment:
“I wonder if adding just the egg white would help with the muted butter flavor in the "egged" biscuit? Just adding the white would give you the binding properties, maillard reaction and lift that benefitted the without the yolk masking any buttery goodness. They probably still wouldn't be as tender though...”
— DelilahPergola
Comment

There was only one way to determine right from wrong (just kidding: to see how much of a difference the addition of one measly egg could really make)—a biscuit test:

Eggs (left) versus eggless (right). And top to bottom: 375°, 400°, and 425° F.

I doubled the same biscuit recipe (I chose A Cozy Kitchen's Flaky, Awesome, Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits for its simplicity and because it calls for an egg to be whisked into the buttermilk) and baked at three different temperatures 375°, 400°, and 425° F. (A couple relevant notes: I had to add an additional tablespoon or two of buttermilk to get the non-egg dough to come together; I brushed every biscuit with a mixture of egg and buttermilk; and I used the same size biscuit cutter for every cut-out.)

Thanks to the June Oven, a smart oven with a camera inside that connects to a mobile app, I could spy on my biscuits as they baked (and then share those videos here).

Here's how the biscuit test broke down:


375° F

Cooked at 375° F, with egg (left) versus without egg (right).

400° F

Cooked at 400° F, with egg (left) versus without egg (right).

425° F

Cooked at 425° F, with egg (left) versus without egg (right).

Across all temperatures, the biscuits made with the egg were decidedly taller (and, in my view, more beautiful). They were less fragile, with a doughier moistness that the all-butter biscuits were missing.

But the all-butter biscuits had a deeper, more purely buttery flavor, uninhibited by the addition of egg, and required less chewing (the descriptor "meltingly tender," while cringeworthy, is not inappropriate here).

Kristen Miglore, Creative Director and my accomplice in biscuit-tasting, asked a fair question: Are there certain instances in which you'd want a taller, sturdier, but maybe a bit less flavorful, biscuit? Why, yes! Perhaps if you're using that biscuit for a sandwich (and want to be able to cut it in half without it crumbling), or covering it with heavy gravy, or making it into a biscuit Benedict, the lofty flakiness will be of great benefit.

The final verdict: If you're looking for a fall-apart, no-chewing-required softness and a pronounceable butter-flavor, you might do best omitting the egg. If you want a biscuit with impressive looks at great height, whisk an egg into the milk mixture and be on your way.

Baked at 400° F; the biscuits on the left are from the eggy dough.

As for the color, the biscuits were all surprisingly yellow inside and out, even those that were made without the addition of egg. I wouldn't have been able to judge a biscuit egg or no egg by color alone (even if the height and flavor would be dead giveaways).

Dramatic color difference between 400° (left) and 425° (right).

The biscuits that were by far the most golden-brown were those baked at the highest temperature 425° F. Other than that, I had a hard time discerning any significant differences that the baking temperature made: Perhaps those baked at 375° F were a bit drier, as they took an additional five minutes in the oven longer? (Hard to say.) And the biscuits at 425° F had, I think, a discernibly crispier, nearly fried bottom, as the butter browned and bubbled in the oven. (Also hard to say.)

At the end of the day, the most beautiful biscuits were made from an egg-rich batter and baked at 425° F. But I'd gladly eat any (and all) of them.

What's your biscuit preference and go-to recipe? Tell us in the comments below.

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23 Comments

A E. May 16, 2018
Everyone of the above samples pictured look AWFUL!! Over baked, dry, too dark and not fluffy---Please let me show you how to make a wonderful fluffy biscuit----you only need three ingrediants!!!!
 
ChefJune February 2, 2017
I was born and raised a Midwesterner, as was my mom - one of the champion biscuit makers of all time. I've never tried an egg, and see no reason to do that.<br />BTW, I am sorry to say that none of the photos above look one bit like the biscuits I grew up on, nor like the ones I make now. Why are they so rocky-looking?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 2, 2017
I answered below, but I think it's because I'm an overly-cautious biscuit-handler! They still tasted very good, even they're a little funny-looking!
 
Adrianna A. February 2, 2017
this is so rad and interesting! i love all the tests at different temperatures. can't wait to apply some of these iterations!
 
Trina February 1, 2017
My biscuits bake up light and beautiful, without egg. I'm a true southerner so I can tell you that our biscuits do not resemble the one's pictured at all. Those looked heavy and dense with and without the egg. Neither looked like a true southern biscuit. Just saying.
 
Sam1148 February 2, 2017
I thought the same thing. Those are more scone like than biscuits.
 
Kristin T. February 2, 2017
I have to agree. I make buttermilk biscuits without egg and they come out plenty tall and flaky. This was a really interesting test, but none of these look like biscuits at all as I'm used to them.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 2, 2017
Lots of biscuit diversity in the world!! Seems like an endless source of experimentation, I think! I'm not sure why mine were "rocky-looking," as ChefJune pointed out, but I think it's because I am always scared of overhandling the dough (which often means I don't handle it enough)! I do have to stand up for my biscuits and say that they weren't dry and heavy, though. I'd wholeheartedly recommend the recipe. And the ones without egg were still flaky, just not when compared, side by side, to those made with the egg.
 
Kt4 February 3, 2017
I think it would be great if one of you ladies also did the experiment with side-by-side :) See how much difference a different set of hands might make. Is there a way the results could be added to this article?
 
Clea M. January 28, 2017
Just coming here to say I love these articles that involve experimentation, testing the effects of changes to recipes, and that amazing oven cam you guys have. I bake (and cook) with an "I wonder what will happen if..." attitude and these articles help me not only avoid potential disasters, but also apply the findings to similar recipes. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 1, 2017
Thank you, Clea!
 
Greenstuff February 3, 2017
Ditto, I love reports on experiments in the kitchen. So this is a nit: I use that same blue tape and a dark marker in my kitchen. But haven't you noticed how poorly it photographs?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 3, 2017
I'm going to invest in some yellow Scotch tape for my next round!
 
Greenstuff February 3, 2017
Brava! I knew you'd be on it.
 
Emma N. January 26, 2017
My curiosity might overcome any biscuit-orthodoxy...I'm going to have to test this one out! And I do wonder about the egg white thing, DelilahPergola. The fat of the yolk only "tenderizes" supposedly. I think it would be worth a try.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 1, 2017
I'd love to hear what happened in your test!
 
Kt4 February 3, 2017
Yes, please share! Maybe do whole egg, egg-white only, and eggless side-by-side pics? Could it be added to this article somehow?
 
Emma N. February 3, 2017
Hey Sarah, what did you do for your non-egg biscuits? Did you use a different recipe or just eliminate the egg from A Cozy Kitchens' recipe?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 3, 2017
I just omitted the egg from her recipe, yep!
 
Fredrik B. January 25, 2017
Mary Berry's scones have egg in them, so that's usually my go to standard.
 
ChefJune February 2, 2017
But biscuits are not scones.
 
Fredrik B. February 3, 2017
Ah, is it not? Where I'm from we'd just call it scones either way so I've never understood the difference; enlighten me?
 
DelilahPergola January 25, 2017
I wonder if adding just the egg white would help with the muted butter flavor in the "egged" biscuit? Just adding the white would give you the binding properties, maillard reaction and lift that benefitted the without the yolk masking any buttery goodness. They probably still wouldn't be as tender though...