Munchie Monday: Soda Biscuits

The soda biscuit recipe from the 19th century Macculloch-Miller family is a quick and easy way to make freshly baked biscuits. Mike Sheldon, author of the website,, answered two questions concerning the 19th century soda biscuit recipe shared below. In the 1800s it was common for biscuit recipes to have only a small amount of fat or shortening. The small amount made biscuits less flaky and more like a cake which was popular at that time. The author also includes a possible explanation behind the 19th century baking step of adding the baking soda to the liquid before combining with dry ingredients. He believes that baking soda was much coarser back then but adds that following this step today is not necessary because of the improvement of modern baking soda and that it actually reduces the power of the baking soda.

When adapting the Macculloch-Miller recipe, butter was used in place of lard with a slightly larger amount and the baking soda was combined and dissolved in the liquid before adding to the dry ingredients. To learn more about baking with historic recipes and to try a different biscuit recipe using buttermilk, visit the Butter the Size of an Egg: Historic Cooking & Recipes website.

Soda Biscuit–Original Recipe
3 pints flour
1 tablespoon full lard
2 teaspoons full of cream of tartar rubbed in the flour with
2 teaspoons full of salt
1 small teaspoon full of soda dissolved in a pint of milk half water

Soda Biscuit—Adapted Recipe
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter, very cold*
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup milk
½ cup water
*The original recipe listed 1 tablespoon of lard but after comparing with similar older recipes decided to increase the amount of fat. Butter should be put in the freezer at least ½ hour before making the recipe.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, cream of tartar, and salt). Using a grater, shred frozen butter and add to dry ingredients with a fork or pastry cutter. In a measuring cup, combine milk and water and stir in ½ teaspoon of baking soda until dissolved. Make a hole, or well, in the dry ingredients and pour liquid ingredients into the hole. Combine but do not overmix. The dough may seem a little too wet to handle.
Lightly flour a work surface or pastry board. Place dough on floured surface and with your hands flatten the dough and then fold the dough over in half. Repeat this process of flattening and folding the dough at least two additional times. This will create the layers in the biscuit. Make sure dough is about ¾ inches thick and use biscuit cutter to make biscuits. Place biscuits, just touching each other, on a lined baking sheet. For 3-inch biscuits bake 12-13 minutes until brown on top. Yields six biscuits.

Round baked biscuits are stacked on top of a blue and white plate.

Topic: Munchie Monday
Age / Level: Middle, High School, College, Life Long Learner