After those Chicken and Dumplings I made the other night, I’ve been caught up in the spirit of the American South In fact, I’ve even been walking around the house tawkin’ in a suthern drawl. So, I was fixin’ to make something else from the deep south like fry up some okra or make a casserole or maybe sum’ sweet tea. I haven’t made biscuits in a month of Sundays so I figured I’d satisfy my hankerin’ for buttery, flaky biscuits. I may only be a bumpkin when it comes to Southern cuisine but, I reckon, after countless attempts over the past few years, I’ve got this recipe down pat.
If you haven’t mastered the art of making a perfectly flaky and fluffy biscuit, your attempts have likely yielded biscuits that are sitting on the fine divided line between a cracker and a scone. A good biscuit should have a significant crumb and be as tender as it is buttery. If you tend to produce biscuits that would get better use out of them as hockey pucks or doorstops, this recipe will go a long way in rectifying your past failed attempts. I’ve found that the key to the flaky biscuit is the combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour. Most recipes call for AP flour which will produce a biscuit with a heavier, denser crumb. The cake flour, on the other hand, will produce a tighter and finer crumb. Both of these are desirable qualities in a biscuit, and together they produce a biscuit with the right amount of both.
If you have a grasp of the science of baking like I do, you’re steps ahead of the crowd. Producing a tender biscuit requires you to handle the dough as little as possible so as not to overstimulate the gluten. I find that grating the butter on a cheese grater, allows you to quickly combine the butter with the flour without over-handling it. Some recipes call for you to run the flour and butter in a food processor, but apparently some Southern people consider that a cardinal sin, opting instead to use two forks or two knives or a whatchamadoodle (i.e. a ‘pastry blender’ if you want to get complicated with the terminology;). Other recipes call for eggs, but for fear that I’ll have to say two Hail Mary’s to atone for my indiscretion of using eggs in biscuits, I always keep eggs out of the biscuit mix.
Biscuit-making requires you to roll up your sleeves and really get into the process so a rolling pin has no place in this process. The ingredients are few, but the technique is key in this recipe. The biscuits bake up beautifully and your entire home will begin to fill with the delicious aroma of freshly baked biscuits. When they come out of the oven they are hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch, so if you want them to be extra delicious, that’s the time to slather them with some more butter. And, Oooh, Lord have mercy, these are awfully deeeeeeelicious! Yes ma’am, they are granny-slappin’ good! And if you want biscuits that are gussied up, you can slice them and add homemade marmalade and you’re all set. I didn’t get a lick of work done after making these. I chose a good book, made a warm cup of tea to enjoy with my biscuit and curled up on the couch, as snug as a bug in a rug for the rest of the afternoon.
So, I figure my husband is tiring of my southern colloqualisms or “southern’isms”, and he’s afraid that I’ll want to go to a tractor pull or go four wheeling next, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead and veer away from Southern recipes after this one.
But go ahead and throw your hat in the ring – challenge yourself to forego the boxed Bisquick biscuits and try your hand at making the finest biscuits this side of the border. If I had my druthers, I’d be eating these all day long. Hope y’all enjoy these!
And don’t forget to scroll down to read my secrets to creating a perfectly flaky biscuit!
No, that’s not cheese you’re looking at. That’s grated butter. I found that grating the butter into the mix allowed me to avoid over-handling it and warming it with my fingers. The butter should remain cold to produce a flaky biscuit. Keeping the butter cold ensures that the pieces of fat melt in the oven creating pockets of steam, which make for flaky biscuits. The butter may start to melt with the heat of your fingers as you are grating it, so I tend to wrap a small piece of parchment around the block of butter to keep the butter from softening. The butter will be put in the freezer after it is grated in any case, so it will return to a completely solidified state.
I used a pastry blender to cut the butter into the mixture. I’m a baker so I have these nifty little tools on hand, but if you don’t have one, you can use two knives or two forks to cut the butter into the mix and toss it about until all the butter is coated with flour and resembles coarse meal.
Once your mixture comes together, turn it out on a floured surface and knead it gently with a light hand. Kneading it develops the gluten which results in taller biscuits but be careful not to over-knead it or you will end up with tough biscuits.
Try to cut the biscuits as close as possible to each other. You can always roll and re-roll the dough but the biscuits that are cut from re-rolled scrap dough will never be as tender as the ones which were first cut. Use a swift downward motion to cut the biscuits, but never twist or rotate the cutter after that as that prevents the sides from rising and becoming flaky.
I’m mildly obsessed with salts of the world so I rummaged around in my pantry to find all sorts of beautiful unrefined sea salts like a mystic sea salt mined from an ancient sea bed high in the Himalayas, Aguni Japanese sea salt, black pyramid flake from the Isle of Cyprus, and Brittany Gray Sea salt from the coastal area of Guérande in France, among many others. I settled on using a delicate peach-coloured flake from Australia. The biscuits aren’t very salty so the little addition of salt sprinkled on the tops of the biscuits provided the perfect amount of saltiness to an otherwise plain biscuit.
THE SECRETS OF BISCUIT-MAKING:
- Always use chilled butter and shortening and after grating the butter, re-freeze the butter for at least 10 minutes. Freezing the butter ensure that the cold fat will melt in the oven and not in your mixing bowl.
- Always mix the buttermilk in gently by hand to avoid overworking the dough. Mix it just until it comes together and forms a uniform texture.
- Knead the dough with a light hand, very gently, for a few seconds to develop the gluten and achieve higher biscuits. Keep in mind that the dough must be handled just enough or you will have tough biscuits. The key to tender biscuits is not in the ingredients, but in the handling of the dough.
- Using a rolling pin is a guaranteed way to overstimulate the gluten, resulting in a tougher biscuit, so use your hands to gently pat the dough rather than using a rolling pin.
- To create layers of flakiness, fold and refold the dough a few times (fold it over like you would fold a letter) before cutting the biscuits.
- When cutting the biscuits, always dip the cutter in flour to avoid the dough sticking to the cutter and producing lopsided biscuits.
- Always press the cookie cutter downward with a bit of force when stamping out the biscuits, but never rotate or twist the cutter or the biscuits will not be as flaky or tall on the sides.
- Try to cut the biscuits as close as possible to each other. Avoid rolling and re-rolling the scraps of dough too many times as they will become tough. The biscuits that are cut first are always the most tender (compared to the ones which are made from scraps of dough which are re-rolled).
- For smooth, flat tops on your biscuits, place your biscuits upside down on the baking sheet.
- For biscuits with soft sides, place the biscuits side by side on the baking sheet, with the sides just touching (or ‘kissing’ each other); for biscuits with harder sides, place them 1 inch apart on the baking sheet.
- For a softer biscuit top, brush the biscuit with butter before baking; for biscuits with a crispy, shiny top, brush the biscuit with an eggwhite wash.
- For taller biscuits, gently squeeze the sides of the biscuits by wrapping your fingers around the perimeter of the biscuit and gently push them upward to give them height.
- Always place the biscuits in an oven that has been preheated to 500°F (260°C). The biscuits need the high heat to get that butter melting instantly to create steam pockets. Reduce the heat to 450°F (232°C) immediately afterwards to ensure that the biscuits bake evenly inside and out.
- Never overbake your biscuits or they will be dry and unappealing. Bake them enough to develop a good colour on the bottom and until they are cooked inside but still a bit moist.
Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold
1 tablespoon butter, melted or 1 egg white, beaten (for brushing the biscuits)
2 tablespoons shortening, cold (or additional butter if you don’t have shortening)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 500°F (260°C). Grate the block of butter using a cheese grater. Transfer the grated butter and shortening into a small bowl and place it in the freezer while you prepare the other ingredients. In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the frozen pieces of butter and shortening to the mixture and using a pastry blender or two knives or forks, cut the butter into the flour mixture until small crumbles are present and the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and gently mix the batter with a spatula until the mixture comes together or just until combined. It should be a sticky, doughy batter.
Dust a dry work surface with additional all-purpose flour. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. With floured hands, gently press the dough out into an 12 inch by 10 inch rectangle. Dust the surface lightly with flour and gently fold the dough over in thirds, like a letter. Then fold in the sides. You will have folded the dough 4 or 5 times. Gently press the dough out to a 8 by 8-inch square about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the dough using a round biscuit or cookie cutter which is about 2.5 inches in diameter. (If you don’t have a round cutter, simply use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut the large square into 9 pieces.) Gently knead the scraps of dough together and make the remaining biscuits. Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet and place them, upside down (so the flat bottoms are now on the top) about 1/2-inch apart. Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter or eggwhite wash and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven and immediately reduce the heat of the oven to 450°F (232°C). Bake for 12 to 16 minutes until they are lightly golden brown. The bottoms should be beautifully browned. Remove biscuits and brush with additional melted butter if desired. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes. Enjoy these delicious little biscuits while they are still warm. If you need to, microwave the leftovers for 12-15 seconds in the microwave to re-warm them and they’ll taste just like they came fresh out of the oven.
[Note: These are freezer-friendly. You can make these biscuits, cut them, put them on cookie sheets and freeze them for about an hour. Once the biscuits are frozen, place them in a freezer bag and keep frozen for up to a month. When you want fresh biscuits, simply place them frozen on the cookie sheet and bake at 450°F for about 20 minutes]
Yields 9-10 biscuits