I’ve never made brown sugar biscuits before, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to keep it under my hat as it were. I live in the South now, where people take their biscuit-eating (and making) very seriously. True biscuit purists would never, ever add sugar to a baking powder biscuit. Yes, some might be willing to make an exception when the destination of the biscuit is dessert, but you’d be surprised how militant folks in the South get about such things. There are parts of Kentucky where you wouldn’t want to admit to liking sweet biscuits if you were more than five steps from the nearest door.
It’s something to do with the pioneers I think. They were the first hard-core consumers of baking powder-risen bakery (what were known as “lightning breads”). They ate chemically leavened cakes and breads for the same reason the astronauts ate freeze-dried ice cream and drank Tang: because they didn’t have access to anything else. Given a choice, just about everyone in the US in the first half of the 19th century would have chosen “natural” yeast-leavened bread over the chemical alternative. Yeast breads were lighter, sweeter and fluffier, without the bitter alkaline tang that comes with a soda-based leavener.
But people can learn to like just about anything, and today we consider biscuits to be a kind of rustic delicacy. People who take them seriously take a lot of pride in making theirs the way their grandma made them, and hers before that, and hers before that. Given that sugar wouldn’t have been typical of early baking powder biscuits because well, the pioneers wouldn’t have had any, I suppose being militant about sticking to the original recipe is a way of retaining a bit of the old pioneer spirit. But heck, just because the pioneers had to go without doesn’t mean I have to. They sacrificed so future generations could have a better life, and darn it, I’m it. Where’s that bag of brown sugar?