There are times when nothing but a biscuit will do. Drop biscuits are okay, they can fill in the gaps when you are desperate and short on time, but most of the time, what I’m really and truly hankering for is a lofty, perfect, flaky, layered-from-top-to-bottom, golden brown, moist, golden brown, and delicious biscuit. I’m talking about the kind where you can split it in half with your fingers and slather with cold butter and strawberry jam or cover with sausage gravy.
My biscuits were always really good… My grandma’s from Arkansas, folks, and she’s an amazing cook and it was her recipe I always made. Then I learned a few techniques after attending a King Arthur Flour traveling baking demo (and later their Blog & Bake event), that turned my biscuits into the ultimate buttermilk biscuits. My biscuits are now the One Biscuit to Rule Them All.
What are these magical techniques? I’ll summarize first. If these sound fussy, I’ll explain why they make a difference further up and further in! (Name that reference!)
How to Make Perfect Lofty, Flaky, Layered, Buttermilk Biscuits
- Use COLD butter. Do not soften it at room temperature at all.
- Cut your butter into both pats and cubes before working them into the flour.
- Use your hands to work in the butter. Don’t use knives, forks, a pastry cutter, or a food processor.
- Don’t add too much buttermilk. It’s easier to add more later than it is to take excess out.
- Be gentle!!! Don’t overwork or manhandle the dough. Stay relaxed. Biscuits are happy food!
- Use a sharp biscuit cutter. Don’t use a jar, juice glass, or tea cup unless the edge is sharp enough to hurt your lip.
- Push straight down when cutting biscuits. Don’t spin or twist the cutter. Straight down and straight back up!
- Get as many biscuits out of the first cutting as you can. Each subsequent re-rolling and cutting of the dough yields tougher and tougher biscuits.
- Don’t crowd the pan. Make sure each biscuit has room to grow!
Those are the rules. Now, let’s break this down a little more…
I am not kidding you when I tell you one of the main keys to perfect biscuits is cutting your butter two different ways. When you read through the recipe, it will be obvious that I’m making a double batch here. Because BISCUITS!
Notice that I cut half of the SUPER COLD butter into super thin pats and half into long quarters (or batons) and then crosswise into cubes. There is a scientific reason to this*; You don’t want homogenous pockets or ‘chunks’ of butter in your biscuit dough. Smaller pieces yield tender dough, larger, flatter pieces yield flakiness. Both of those traits are prized in biscuits. Starting with the butter in two different shapes and sizes helps yield that desired final product. Using cold butter is crucial, too. Cold butter melts when it’s in the hot oven rather than when it’s being worked into the flour. The longer it takes to melt, the better… That helps create the layers, too.
*I learned this from my beloved King Arthur Flour’s Traveling Baking Demo (and seriously… if they is one of these anywhere near you or even semi-near you, GO TO IT! They’re free and they’re fabulous!)
Because this recipe uses self-rising flour, you don’t have to worry about anything other than measuring said flour into a nice, large mixing bowl. Into the flour goes the butter. Now, drop your finger tips into the flour and butter and pull apart the butter pieces while tossing them into the flour. Don’t use the palms of your hands because those radiate heat and that melts butter which makes tough biscuits. TOUGH BISCUITS. It sounds like an insult, doesn’t it? Here’s a little video my 13 year old helped me make to show you what I mean. Please enjoy the squawking in the background. This is a real home with real children who eat the real food I share.
This brings me to an important point.
Why should I use my hands to work the butter into biscuit dough?
There’s a simple reason for this; it’s because you literally get a feel for how the dough is behaving. When your hands are in the dough, you know when there are pieces that are too big, you know when it will or won’t hold together, and you know you’re not beating the tar out of it which would yield TOUGH BISCUITS.
My 13 year old was Mr. Video while I was making these, so I have a handy, dandy little clip here to show you how to mix in the buttermilk and what the dough should look like.
Such a helpful child he is! Yes, I did say you can add extra buttermilk if you need to do so. Just add it little by little (and upon reflection, it looks more like I ended up adding two extra tablespoons to that batch vs. the one I mentioned in the video) and ONLY add it until things clump. The goal is not a wet, smooth dough. I’m not kidding!
And I’m also not kidding when I tell you that your dough may look a little shaggy -okay, a lot shaggy- when you turn it out of the bowl. In fact, if you’ve not had success with biscuits before, you’re quite likely to think you’ve gone dreadfully wrong and that I’m crazy. You’re going to be tempted to add a lot more buttermilk, but resist! Don’t do it! Trust me! It’s time to pat out and fold the dough. That’s how we get all the lovely layers.
Here’s the method:
Slide both hands under one side of the dough (at about 9 o’clock if you think of the dough as a clock face), lift it up, and fold it over the other side at 3 o’clock like you’re closing a book. Again, pat the dough round out into a 2-inch thick rectangle. This time, slide your hands under the bottom of the dough at 6 o’clock and fold it up toward 12 o’clock. Repeat the patting into a 2-inch rectangle, folding from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock, patting, then folding from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock. Each time you do this, the dough should hold together just a little better. Onto rolling the dough!
Just like every other step, use a light hand when rolling the dough. It shouldn’t take much effort to roll it out.
You have a couple of options for cutting the biscuits. You can either use a nice, sharp, open topped biscuit cutter or a knife. Either way, you will push the cutter or knife straight down toward the counter. Do not twist the cutter or saw the knife back and forth because that will mar the layers you worked so hard to achieve and keep the biscuits from rising high.
Make sure you don’t crowd your biscuits on the pan. They won’t have a chance to rise and have those gorgeous layered sides if you do. With so many do’s and don’ts in this recipe, I’m happy to say I have an optional step for you. If you’d like them to be a pretty, glossy brown on top, you can brush them with more buttermilk (as I always do). If you prefer a rustic, flour dusted look to the top of your biscuits, omit that step. It’s just a matter of personal preference.
Finally, I have to tell you… this makes a lot of biscuits. It does. It even makes more than our Viking horde should eat in one meal. (That’s not to say we haven’t eaten the whole shooting match at once, but I recognize that’s a little excessive.)When I’m feeling virtuous, I freeze half of the unbaked batch for later meals. Sometimes, when I’m really on the ball, I just whip up a batch of dough, cut out the biscuits, and freeze all of them. Are you wondering whether they’re as good when they’re baked after having been frozen? I don’t blame you if you are.
I offer proof. The biscuit on the left was made from fresh biscuit dough. The biscuit on the right was from pre-cut biscuits that were frozen for a week prior to baking. Both are fanastic, moist, flaky, and layered top to bottom with fabulous biscuit goodness. Would you like to know something I’ve discovered? The frozen ones, in my experience, puff up a little higher than the fresh ones. I love having frozen biscuits in the oven for busy nights or unexpected dinner guests.
Now, anyone want a Buttermilk Biscuit?