Usually I mix just until the ingredients are combined, then knead 5 times. But to see if this is really necessary, I made three batches:
- Batch 1: Kneaded 5x
- Batch 2: Kneaded 15x
- Batch 3: Kneaded 45x
Turns out I was wrong.
- Kneading more makes the dough more homogenous. In other words, less crumbly, more spongy... like Pillsbury biscuits from a can.
- Kneading more makes the dough rise higher. This is directly in conflict with anything you'll ever read about biscuits, but I've seen it happen over and over again.
- Kneading more makes the texture slightly tougher. Emphasis on slightly... like, you can notice the difference between 15 and 45 kneads, but barely.
At this point, I thought I had settled the matter: over-working the dough is not something you need to fret your head about.
But then, as a few people reminded me, it is possible that even five kneads is too much. What if all three of these batches were "ruined" in comparison with the glorious fluffiness I could have had if I handled the dough even less?
To make sure this wasn't the case, I performed one more experiment. This time I made only two batches of dough:
- Batch 1: "No-Knead" (folded 1x)
- Batch 2: Kneaded 5x
I then baked both batches (along with some canned Pillsbury biscuits my wife had left over in the fridge) together at 425 F for about 20 minutes.
Well, both the "no knead" biscuits and the 5x kneaded biscuits tasted really good. If you just took a bite of one, it would be hard to tell the difference. No one at breakfast (and there were 7 of us) said they preferred one over the other.
But there were some differences in the shape of the biscuits.
- The 5x-kneaded biscuits rose considerably higher than the no-knead biscuits
- The 5x-kneaded biscuits were much easier to split (for butter or jam or gravy).
- The no-knead biscuits just crumbled if you tried to split them in half.
In my mind, these experiments pretty much debunk the overworking paranoia you see from a lot of biscuit makers. Kneading your biscuit dough a few times will not stop your biscuits from rising... in fact, they tend to rise higher the more you knead them (although if you knead them much more than 15x, they will get less crumbly and very slightly more spongy).
So go forth and knead, 5x, 10x, 15x... anywhere in that range will give results that are almost indistinguishable. Even if you can't help but knead the dough until it begs for mercy, don't expect your biscuits to be ruined... just expect them to be a bit more homogenous, spongy, and Pillsbury-ish.