Heaven is a Biscuit
I love biscuits. Love them. I could eat a whole batch at one sitting, even without butter or jam or gravy. I say I could, because believe it or not I do possess the restraint not to.
And I should probably clarify, I love good buttermilk biscuits. Sure, I have been known to eat a fast food sausage biscuit or a chain restaurant puck covered with gravy. If a menu has a biscuit on it, I find it hard to resist. But my true passion is for good, down home, fresh made buttermilk biscuits. Some people have grandmothers who make these, or live near a mom-and-pop country restaurant that produce hundreds of from-scratch, by-hand biscuits. Someone forwarded a newspaper article to me recently about the wide variety of frozen biscuits available that are good enough that many Southern cooks have given up biscuit making altogether. And I’ll admit, they are not all bad.
Here’s the thing though. I make biscuits. And I love doing it. I think it may be because I have an image of myself as some one who can do things. The truth is – not so much. I can’t make fluffy white bread, or my own puff pastry, or good old-fashioned dinner rolls. But I can make biscuits. I like being someone who can do something that most people don’t bother with anymore.
Learning to make a good biscuit takes practice, and trial and error. Even the most experienced biscuit cook has a batch that just doesn’t work. Maybe the weather was wrong, or the flour just wasn’t in the mood, or the cook didn’t have the right love to put into that batch. So today I made a big batch of biscuits and carefully made notes about every step. The recipe below may look long, but don’t be intimidated. I have tried to put in as much detail as I can to get the dough rolling.
So here are some starting tips: I do truly recommend using soft Southern wheat flour, like White Lily (my choice) or Martha White. I am sure you can order it online if you can’t track it down. I use White Lily as my flour always, so I don’t have two types of all-purpose flour in the pantry. If you use regular all-purpose, you’ll still get biscuits, but if they don’t taste exactly right, that’s why. I used to be a little afraid of shortening and made biscuits with all butter, but now I know that the shortening is really a must. I use a combination because the boost in flavor the butter adds. Both must be cold – right out of the fridge before you use it. Same with the buttermilk. I prefer cold whole buttermilk, but low-fat works as well. Make sure you shake the bottle very well before measuring.
4 cups flour (all-purpose White Lily)
2 Tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening
¼ cup cold unsalted butter
1 to 1 ½ cups cold well-shaken buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking pan (about 13” by 9” with 1-inch sides) with parchment paper or grease it well with shortening.
Measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl that gives you lots of room to work. Mix gently with a fork to combine and aerate the flour.
Cut the shortening and the butter into small cubes. I cut the butter from the stick three times down the length, turn it over once, cut it three times down the length again, then across the short way. I buy Crisco shortening in sticks as well and do the same.
Separate the shortening and butter into cubes and sprinkle over the top of the flour mixture. Use the fork to toss the cubes lightly in the flour to coat. Then dip your clean fingers into some flour and mix everything together, squishing and rubbing the mixture together to combine the fats and the flour. Don’t spend too long doing this, gentle handling is the key to a tender biscuit. It’s okay if there are some lumps of butter or shortening left. Many recipes describe the result of this process as looking like breadcrumbs or fine meal, and that’s okay. I think it looks like lumpy flour. When you pinch a bit of flour between your fingers, from anywhere in the bowl, it should stick together.
Measure out the shaken buttermilk, then pour about ¾ cup of it over the mixture. Use the fork to fold the buttermilk into the dough, carefully incorporating the liquid. Keep adding the buttermilk a bit at a time until you have a cohesive dough. You may not need all the buttermilk. Again, you don’t want to work the dough too much, but don’t leave much loose, dry flour in the bottom of the bowl. You can use your hands to get that last bit of dry flour into the dough.
Lightly flour a work surface. I find the counter top to be best; a board tends to slip around. You do want to use a light hand to flour the surface, because too much will leave an unpleasant floury coating on the biscuits. Sprinkling flour through a wire sieve is a great way to do this.
Turn the dough out onto the surface, and turn it over on itself once or twice to bring the dough together. I do not say knead, because you don’t want to work the dough that hard. Press the dough into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Just press it out lightly with your hands to an even thickness. This method makes the top of the biscuits slightly textured, which looks very homemade, but if it bothers you, roll a lightly floured rolling pin lightly over the top.
Cut the biscuits with a round cutter or a thin rimmed glass, always cutting as close to the edge of the dough and as close together as possible to get as many biscuits as possible. I get a good dozen in the first batch using a 2 ½ inch cutter from this recipe. Just press the cutter down and pull back up; don’t twist or the sides won’t rise up as nice.
Place the biscuits very close together on the prepared pan, just touching each other. This helps them rise while cooking.
Now the big debate: to re-roll or not re-roll. There will be some leftover dough. Some people say that this dough is not worth using again, but I disagree. Gently press the remaining dough together and press out into a ½ inch thickness and cut – you’ll get maybe three more. Place them on the pan with the rest of the biscuits. The first-roll dozen are the company biscuits, the last ones just for you, so remember which are which. Any leftover scraps can be cooked separately, or rolled in cinnamon-sugar and baked off, or frankly just eaten raw.
Bake the biscuits in the hot oven for 8 – 9 minutes, rotating the pan about 6 minutes through. Watch the biscuits carefully so they do not over-brown. These may not get too brown on top, but will be nice and soft inside. If you want a brown top, turn the broiler on a few minutes, watching all the time with the door open until lightly golden. Take the biscuits out of the oven, then brush the tops with melted butter (about 2 Tablespoons should do it).
Leave the biscuits to cool slightly and then eat ‘em up. They will keep a day or so tightly wrapped, but are better toasted when not eaten fresh.
Makes 12 – 15 biscuits
Serve your fresh, hot biscuits with Tomato Gravy or Sausage Gravy.
Mmmm…looks pretty and perfect. I love them.
Casey@Good. Food. Stories. says
LOVE that you admit to eating the dough – it freaks my husband out when I do this. My biscuits have always been decent but not mind-blowing, which might be due to a) my Northern heritage or b) the fact that I’ve never used shortening in my recipe. I’m doing it your way next time and will keep you posted!
Stephanie Manley says
So, I loved this post. When in college I worked at a place where we made these everyday for breakfast. Lord knows, I have made a few of these myself. Too Many. I can almost feel the dough begin to dry on my hands by reading this. I, too, love biscuits.
I have one product suggestion for you. I heard about this product from a co-worker, who can bake very, very, well. Bakewell cream, it would be your levening agent. It can be hard to find, but its good stuff.
Here is a link, and I am not affiliated with king arthur flour, I am just a fan of many of their products.
Jane Ridolfi says
I am anxious to try this recipe! it’s hard to find whole buttermilk in nyc – I see only lowfat light buttermilk….I’ll try it with that as you suggest…thanks for the inspiration! your southern recipes are so refreshing for an eastcoaster!
Leslie Wileman says
Love your blog – such fun to read even if I don’t have time for much of the actual cooking. I too love good biscuits and thank you for this wonderful primer as I can cook just about anything but biscuits and pastries, etc. This is a real gift to have! Keep up the good work!
Bake a good biscuit and the world will beat a path to your door !!! Can’t wait to try these myself.
Lane Whitehead says
My husband refers to my homemade biscuits as “biscuit chips”. He loves, loves, loves and really loves these biscuits!
Martha King says
I can’t wait to try this! When i was a kid my mom always let me have the dough edges (she didn’t re-roll, i suppose b/c there were only 4 of us) to make whatever shapes I wanted to bake with the biscuits.
Tara Mataraza Desmond says
You just convinced me to go buy a tub of shortening (which I tend to avoid) and bake a batch of these. My husband (and I) love biscuits, and they’ll be a good distraction as we wait around for our baby to arrive (Due March 5…waiting game is unnerving!) Thanks for sharing this!
Hey PC – Being a Southern farm boy, we had homemade biscuits morning, noon, and night (along with fresh tomatoes from our garden – every meal). My mom still has the Orange Juice Concentrate metal can that my grandmother used for her biscuits.
However, my wonderful wife of 22 years has never made me a biscuit. Thoughts?
The greatest treat in the world is a hot buttered biscuit with a slice of fresh summer tomato in it!
Low-fat buttermilk is just fine – but I always go with a full-fat choice when I can find it!
The dough is the one of the best parts! I always eat the scraps!
I would maybe mention the sense of accomplishment one gets from making a good biscuit! I remember cutting biscuits and cookies with an OJ can too. Now they are made of cardboard, so I guess that tradition is gone.
Katie @ cozydelicious says
Thank you so much for all the details. I have probably made biscuits dozens of times, but they never turn out quite right. My husband usually scarfs them down anyway, but I know they are heavy and dense and just plain NOT what I want. I’m printing your recipe and giving biscuits another shot!!
Culinary Compulsion says
Those look AMAZING! Yum!
When my husband and I were first married he had a client from my home town he had to visit 2 weeks at a time twice a year. My husband would stay with my grandparents. They loved the company. He loved the biscuit lessons from my grandmother. Every morning she would get up to make a big country breakfast and my husband would sit, watch and listen to her as she made her wonderful biscuits. My grandmother is gone now. But, her biscuits live on via my husband. She taught him to only use White Lily.
Instead of round you can also roll your dough out square and just cut them square with a knife. I know, not traditional. But tastes the same and keeps you from having to re-roll.
I’m trying to make biscuits for months, they are to hard or to uncooked… I’m going to try also your recipe, but the thing is that I want them thin.
Hands down best biscuits I have ever made. 🙂 Wonderful recipe, and FABULOUS with butter and honey.
These look amazing. While I’m not a bread maker, I may have to bite the bullet and try my hand at these.
Awesome post! Always in search of the perfect biscuit recipe. I have two “almost” perfect ones, but they just aren’t there yet. Will try this one ASAP. And, yes, I ALWAYS used White Lily which is available at Fresh Market.
Joshua Mancil says
This recipe is amazing! It made about 14 biscuits for me. (I patted them pretty thick.) They came out nice and tall; fluffy on the inside, crisp around the edges.
A few slight modifications: I baked mine at 425 for 20 minutes, and cooked them in good old cast iron skillets. Yum.