Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Biscuits

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In the South, biscuits are treated with the same respect as a fine French croissant. Everyone has a secret family recipe and technique that make the perfect biscuit. Well, here is mine: I gently roll and then fold my biscuit dough. You will see big chunks of butter peeking through the dough, which makes for a very delicate, flaky result. People always say not to overwork your dough, especially when it comes to biscuits. My way of handling the dough will help you avoid that overworking.

I like to turn my biscuits into breakfast sandwiches. Split a warm biscuit and stuff it with a fried egg, candied bacon, grated cheese, or anything you desire. For my favorite egg sandwich recipe, see the Sweet Note. But remember: biscuits are not just for breakfast–they can be enjoyed anytime, all day, at any meal.

Ingredients

  • cups unbleached self-rising flour, preferably White Lily
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1½ to 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing

Special Equipment

  • One 3-inch biscuit cutter

Method

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 500°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the cold butter and shortening and, working quickly, cut them in with a pastry blender or by pinching with your fingertips and smearing the butter and shortening into the flour. You should have various-sized pieces of butter, ranging from sandy patches to pea-sized chunks, with some larger bits as well. Be prepared to get messy! I always start out with one messy hand to work the dough and one clean hand to pour in the buttermilk, but before long I have two messy hands and am covered in flour. I pray the phone doesn’t ring while I’m making biscuits!

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually pour in the cups of buttermilk, gently mixing with one hand or a rubber spatula until the dough starts to come together into a mass. If the dough seems dry and crumbly, gradually add up to ½ cup more buttermilk. The dough will be very sticky.

Gently turn the dough out onto a floured work surface or pastry cloth. (Remember, I promised you a mess! You can go ahead and wash and dry your hands now.)

Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out to a ¾-inch-thick rectangle. Gently fold the top third of the dough over the center, and then fold the bottom third up over the center and roll it out again to a ½-inch thickness. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process, then repeat one more time. The dough should be smooth, but you should still see small bits of butter peeking through.

Dip the edges of a 3-inch biscuit cutter into flour and begin to punch out the biscuits; do not twist the cutter, as you will seal the layers of dough and the biscuits won’t rise as high. Punch out the biscuits as close together as possible, then carefully gather up your scraps, gently roll them out again (there is no need to fold the dough again), and cut out more biscuits.

Arrange the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, placing them close together so that they barely “kiss” one another. Lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with about half of the melted butter.

Place the biscuits in the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 450°F, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the biscuits from the oven and immediately brush the tops with the remaining melted butter.

Biscuits are best served hot out of the oven, and you will want to sample at least one immediately to give yourself a pat on the back. However, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 day. To reheat, wrap in foil and warm in a 400°F oven for 5 to 8 minutes. You can also freeze any leftover biscuits. There is no need to defrost the biscuits–just wrap them in foil and bake in a 400°F oven for 25 minutes, then open the foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes.

Variation: Jam-Filled Buttermilk Biscuits

Biscuits are the jam! Here’s another great way to enjoy our buttermilk biscuits. Roll and cut out the biscuits. Then, press the center of each biscuit with your thumb to make a little indentation. Fill each biscuit with a heaping teaspoon of Raspberry Jam, Blackberry Lime Jam, or your favorite jam. Brush with egg wash (1 egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of fine sea salt) and sprinkle the tops with raw sugar. Bake at 450°F for 18 to 20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden and the jam is bubbling. Serve warm.

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