We've already seen what the amount of fat does to a biscuit, but what does the type of fat do?
To find out, I made three batches of biscuits that were identical except for the type of fat used. I was cooking for a crowd, so I cooked each batch separately, one after the other, and asked my guests to let me know which batch tasted the best. I did not tell my guests what the difference in the batches was until everyone had told me their opinion.
- Batch 1: shortening
- Batch 2: butter
- Batch 3: cream cheese
- Four of eight people could tell no difference in taste between the shortening and butter biscuits.
- Two of eight people thought the shortening biscuits tasted better than the butter biscuits.
- One of eight people thought the butter biscuits tasted slightly saltier, but not necessarily better.
- One of eight people thought the butter biscuits tasted slightly saltier and slightly better.
- The cream cheese biscuits were pretty unanimously agreed to be blander and cakier.
Either butter or shortening is fine; there's no clear advantage of one over the other (except that butter is easier to incorporate into the dough by hand, especially if you grate it like cheese). Cream cheese is a decent (but inferior) alternative if you're worried about fat content (cream cheese has about half as many calories from fat as butter or shortening). Cream cheese might be an especially good option if you're making biscuits and gravy (where the biscuit is more of a vessel for the gravy anyway).