How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits
Over the last year or so, I’ve been working on making the perfect buttermilk biscuit. It was an itch I needed to scratch: I loved biscuits, but had no idea how to make them. It just seemed so arcane for some reason, like it was reserved for just a few special people to be able to make them.
I’ll admit, the first batch was awful. They were thin, dense, nasty things, not suitable for anything but the trash. But we ate them anyway. I’ve gotten better over time, and nowadays I can knock out a batch of biscuits pretty quickly, and I’m confident that they will always be good.
So, I’ll share my recipe and technique here. Maybe it will be helpful to someone who wants to conquer the same hill.
The basic recipe that I use is slightly adapted from a Hardee’s Biscuit recipe that I found at Cooks.com. With biscuits, I’ve found, the trick is not so much in the ingredients (pretty much every biscuit recipe is essentially the same), but in the technique.
A full batch yields about a dozen biscuits, depending on what size cutter you use and how thick you press them out.
- 4 cups self-rising flour. Do yourself a favor here and just use White Lily if you can get it; it makes for softer biscuits.
- 1 tbsp baking powder. I’m using Clabber Girl these days, but any brand should be fine.
- 1 tbsp sugar.
- 1/2 tsp salt.
- 2/3 cup butter or Crisco. Crisco makes a softer biscuit with a bit less flavor. Biscuits made with butter tend to have a bit more “crumb,” but are more flavorful. I’ve heard lard is the gold standard here, but I haven’t tried that.
- 2 cups buttermilk. Fresher is better, and make sure it’s COLD.
A half batch is a half-dozen or so. This is what I usually make.
- 2 cups self-rising flour.
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup butter or Crisco
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Use a whisk to combine the ingredients well.
- Add the butter or Crisco and mix well. This is a critical step for biscuits, so a word about technique is in order. The butter or Crisco is crucial to how the biscuits rise: what happens is that the steam given off by the fat early in the cooking process releases air that makes the biscuits rise. In order for that to work best, the fat needs to be evenly distributed throughout, and it needs to be super cold when the biscuits go into the oven. Small bits of butter throughout the dough gives an even rise. There are various ways to accomplish this. If you don’t have a food processor, then my advice is to put the butter in the freezer for a little bit (an hour or so) before you work with it, then pull it out and cut it into small chunks. I used to cut the stick in half lengthwise on both axes, making four long skinny sticks, then cut each of those into little cubes before mixing into the flour. If you have a food processor (my preferred method these days), then put the flour mix into the food processor, cut up the butter as described above, and mix/cut it all together with a few pulses. You’re looking for a kind of gritty texture, like chunky sand.
- Put the flour/fat mixture into the freezer. Leave it there for at least an hour; I usually put it together a day or two in advance and just leave it in the freezer until I’m ready to make the biscuits. What this does is freeze the fat and give us a little bit of leeway to work the dough lightly without melting it. You’ll get a better rise.
- When you’re ready to make the biscuits, start by preheating the oven to 425 degrees. Take out your cold flour/fat mix from the freezer. Create a little bowl in the mixture and pour in the buttermilk.
- Using a spoon or spatula, mix together the flour/fat and buttermilk in the bowl. It will be a surprisingly dry mixture. Some have referred to it as “shaggy.” If it’s wet, add a little all-purpose flour (NOT self-rising!) to help dry it out. On the other hand, if you determine that it’s too dry, you can add a little bit more buttermilk to make it damp. Remember, “shaggy.”
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (use all-purpose flour for everything from this point on). Flour your hands a bit and press the dough out flat, about an inch thick. Fold the dough over on itself and press it out again about an inch thick. You will likely need to add a bit of flour on top so it doesn’t stick to your hands. That’s fine. Continue this process of folding it over on itself a few more times, maybe 10-12 at most. Fewer is generally better. What you don’t want to do is to overwork the dough; it needs to stay cool and doesn’t want to be pressed and pulled too much.
- Finally, press the dough out to about 3/4″ thick evenly.
- Now we’ll get the cutter. I normally use a fluted 3″ cutter, and that makes what most would consider “conventionally sized” biscuits. Sometimes I use a smooth 3.5″ biscuit cutter…those guys are enormous!
- Dip your cutter in flour and cut the biscuits. You want to press straight down and pull straight up. DO NOT TWIST THE CUTTER! If you twist, it will tend to seal the edges of the biscuit, and you’ll wind up with lopsided biscuits because they will rise unevenly. Use plenty of flour, press straight down, pull straight up. Re-flour the cutter for each cut.
- Place the biscuits on a walled baking sheet on top of a sheet of parchment paper. I’ve read that putting the edges of the biscuits together will make them rise higher. That’s probably true, but I’ve had success with both approaches. With bigger biscuits, I’m inclined to give them space so that they get more heat around the edges; it helps to avoid a doughy center.
- When you have cut all the biscuits you can, you’ll have scraps. Mash them together, press them out to 3/4″ thick, fold it over again on itself once or twice, then press it out to 3/4″ thick again and repeat the cutting process to get as many as possible. Some have suggested that the biscuits from the second cutting will rise higher; that has not been my experience generally.
- Put them smack dab in the middle of the oven (top to bottom). They will probably cook for about 20 minutes, but just keep an eye on them and pull them when they reach a pleasing golden color. If you have a convection oven, turn that fan on! They will cook faster (a half batch finishes in about 13 minutes for me) and more evenly.
- When the biscuits are done, pull them out and immediately brush the tops with melted butter. Add a little salt to the butter if you wish, it adds a nice flavor. I pull them off the baking sheet pretty quickly to avoid letting the bottoms over-cook, but if you determine they need more time, you can leave them on for a few minutes.
Now all that remains is to break them open, butter them well, add honey or jam, and enjoy! If you’re really ambitious, you could prepare sausage patties and sausage gravy and go for a good southern breakfast.
These keep pretty well if you put them in a big ziplock bag after they have cooled. 10-15 seconds in the microwave will warm them right up and you can enjoy them the next day, too. BUT, they are best fresh out of the oven.