5 essential tips to make perfect buttermilk biscuits from scratch
My friend Kevin lives in Atlanta, but his family hails from Tennessee. As a bona fide good old boy, this means that he has an old school family recipe for old-fashioned baking powder & buttermilk biscuits. Every time he made a batch with his little girl, he’d email me a picture of the high and flakey results. The problem is, that I could never get my biscuits to rise to such enviable heights, and thus his emails served as nothing more than taunting reminders of my failure.
That is, until I perfected my own recipe and finally nailed it (and went on to create a pretty amazing version of biscuits and gravy that uses smoked brisket…).
The perfect biscuits, I would come to find, are a delicate balance of recipe and technique. There are a few key tips I learned along the way:
Best Biscuit pro tip #1: You must have a pastry cutter.
This thing will make or break your biscuits. You use it to cut the fat into the flour, and it does so quickly without allowing the butter to get warm (cold butter is another golden rule of biscuit making!).
Best Biscuit pro tip #2: “sand texture” is not really a thing
When researching biscuit recipes, I read over and over that you should cut the fat in until ‘the mixture resembles sand’ or ‘wet sand’. So here’s the thing. It never actually ends up looking like sand. It just looks like, well, exactly as it appears in the picture above.
Best Biscuit pro tip #3: Your mix should be very dry.
My buddy Casey suggested this tip after seeing a pic of my mix on instagram, and I can’t thank him enough. See, I was adding too much liquid, which made the biscuits dense and heavy. If your consistency is right, when you pour your mix onto the board, it’ll look very crumbly (as above) but will come together as you knead it.
Best Biscuit pro tip #4: Don’t twist your cutter.
It’s a tiny detail that makes a big difference. Most people will be tempted to twist the cutter once it’s pushed into the dough, but don’t do it! Just cut straight down, and back up again. If you twist the cutter you seal the edges and prevent the biscuit from rising. This also holds true for with mini biscuits, which make for awesome appetizers, and that’s why I keep a bunch of different sized cutters on hand.
Best Biscuit pro tip #5: Stack your biscuits close.
Whether using a cast iron skillet or a baking tray, lay your biscuits so they are touching sides and all connected. This helps them rise higher, as they provide support for one another as they bake – kind of like a doughy shoulder to lean on!
Ok, now you have the most important tips as part of your arsenal, now just follow the recipe below and get ready to be a biscuit master!
Perfect Baking Powder & Buttermilk Biscuits
Be mindful to always use fresh baking powder – as it gets older and closer to expiry, it loses it’s leavening power.
If you’re out a buttermilk, you can simply put a tablespoon of white vinegar into the milk and let it stand for a few minutes – handy hack for red velvet cake, too!
- 1/3 cup cold butter cut into smallish cubes
- 1/3 cup cold shortening (I use Crisco)
- 2 1/4 cups plain flour ( use White Lily if you can get it, then omit the baking powder)
- 2 teaspoons of fresh baking powder
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- Pinch of salt, pinch of sugar
- A little extra flour for kneadin’ and spreadin’
Start by pre-heating your oven to 450f/230c. You want to try and work quickly with this recipe, the trick is to have the butter super cold and handle it as little as possible. Colder butter = flakier biscuits.
Put the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder into a bowl, and throw in the butter cubes and shortening.
Next, you want to cut the fat into the dry ingredients. The best tool for this is a purpose-made pastry cutter. If you don’t have one, you can use two forks, or even your hands. The cutter works best because it doesnt transfer the heat through to the fats.
Combine until you’re left with small pea sized chunks of butter peeking out from the flour mix.
Now, stir in the milk, a little a the time until the mix just comes together. It will appear quite crumbly still. Tip out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead lightly a few times to bring it all together. Sprinkle on a little more flour as required to stop it sticking.
Press dough out gently with your hands or a rolling pin until you get to 3/4 inch thickness. Then grab your biscuit cutter. Press down cutting each biscuit out, being careful not to twist at the end of the cut.
Cut out your biscuits and try to get as many out of this step as you can. You can gently re-knead the extra dough to cut more, but I guarantee the biscuits from the second and third passing will never be as high or as pretty as the first.
Arrange them on an lined baking tray or skillet with each biscuit lightly touching the one next to it. This gives them support as they rise in the oven. Brush the tops with remaining buttermilk.
Put the tray into your preheated oven and watch those babies rise! After about 10-15 minutes (and turn halfway if your oven has hotspots), take them out and let them cool. If using a skillet, they may take a little longer to cook as the iron heats up.
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