There are few things that say “Down home goodness” like a true, Southern, buttermilk biscuit. I struggled for years to make these tricky little guys, but I learned lots of tips and tricks along the way (you know– while I was ruining enough of them that I could have fed a small country– that is, if the small country’s inhabitants wanted little burnt baseballs to eat). But if I, a proud, transplanted Pennsylvanian (who never had biscuits growing up) can do it– then anyone can.
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Classic Buttermilk Biscuits
Classic White Lily Flour recipe; techniques and adaptations are my own
2 cups White Lily all purpose flour
1/4 cup chilled butter flavored shortening (I use Crisco)
3/4 cup buttermilk, more or less (will explain this in a minute)
Egg Wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tsp. water)
Extra melted butter for brushing tops of biscuits, optional
Use a pastry cutter to cut chilled shortening into flour, making pieces about the size of small peas. Gently stir in buttermilk, just until a shaggy dough is formed. You may not need the whole amount. Roll out the dough, making a “business fold” 3 times. Cut biscuits out and placed on a greased aluminum tray, brushing with egg wash and topping with a few flakes of sea salt, if desired. Bake biscuits at 475 degrees for 10-13 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Brush tops of finished biscuits with extra melted butter, if desired, before serving.
Now, in pictures!
There are a few dastardly difficult recipes that I tried for years, without success, to master. These mysterious recipes were the stuff of legendary frustration– I spent hours and hours trying again and again, taking copious notes, trying to figure out how to conquer them. These things were pie crust, French Macarons, and perfect Buttermilk Biscuits. You can read a little more about my Biscuit Baking woes, here, if you are a sucker for punishment. I found myself trying recipe after recipe, and being displeased with all my results before rushing forward onto yet another recipe that I hoped might be “the one.” But I didn’t realize that the recipes weren’t the problem– my technique was. The more you understand about the ingredients and what they do, and how to combine them together properly, the more you can craft how you want your “ideal recipe” to taste. So let’s delve into what has taken me over a decade to learn. You will be a biscuit expert in no time.
The first thing that I learned in my quest for the perfect Buttermilk Biscuit is that the flour matters. No no, not flower matters. We aren’t hippies. Or English gardeners, for that matter.
FLOUR MATTERS. Yes, your grandma was right– you need to make true Southern biscuits with White Lily Flour. Yes, you can make biscuits with other flour. No, they will not be the quintessential Southern biscuit, nor will they ever be as soft or effortlessly layered as when you use the White Lily. White Lily flour is unbelievably soft because it is made from winter wheat. Your biscuits will never be fluffier. Get the White Lily. I tried for years with other flour power. No dice. Gotta’ be the White Lily.
Simple recipes are just that– deceptively simple. They have to be done perfectly. Since there aren’t many ingredients you really notice when a simple recipe is made poorly, which makes them much more difficult than they appear on the surface. There are many, many biscuit recipes out there, and unfortunately that just means that there are that many more ways to get biscuits wrong, if you don’t understand what the different recipes are guiding you to do with their specific list of ingredients. You will just try recipe after recipe, like I did, getting more and more discouraged. You will throw away batch after batch, always searching for the elusive “perfect recipe.” But it’s not a new recipe you need– it’s an understanding of what each ingredient BRINGS to a recipe, so that you can pick your ideal biscuit and create it just that way. Don’t find the perfect recipe. Create the perfect recipe for you, customized to what you like.
Let’s talk about the ingredients– and what each one does to the recipe. I mean, how can you create an ideal guest list for your biscuit party until you know what ingredients your biscuits want to hang out with? I mean, come on.
One thing that you will find in every biscuit recipe is self rising flour (like I said, get White Lily. It will give you an advantage before you even start). So what is self rising flour? Is it flour that gets up on Monday morning without an alarm clock????
Self rising flour already has the salt and baking powder added into it– the baking powder gives biscuits their “lift.” If you are using all purpose flour you will need to add leavener. But if I might make a humble recommendation, just use self rising flour for biscuits. It’s so much easier.
Another ingredient in every biscuit recipe is fat. (Is that a FAT JOKE????? *lips tremble*) Don’t worry darling. No fat jokes.
So what kind of fat should we use in our biscuit recipe? Old school, classic Southern biscuits always use lard (Cracker Barrel uses lard in their biscuits). Many people swear by “all butter” biscuits. Others use shortening. So let’s take a look at these ingredients and what they do, so that you can decide for yourself which kind of fat you want to use. Personally I find that the best of all worlds is butter flavored Crisco, but more on that in a moment.
In all biscuit recipes, regardless of variation, there is also going to be a liquid component. Old school Southern biscuits always use buttermilk. Don’t get the skim (aka, sour water. Eww). Don’t go the “vinegar added to milk” route (that’s like expecting to sit next to the bridesmaid at the wedding and instead getting the old, spinster aunt with broccoli in her teeth). Get real, genuine buttermilk. Get the kind in glass bottles that is so thick you have to shake the layer of solid at the bottom before you use it– the kind with little flakes of golden butter floating around in it like a heavenly song. If you can’t find the glass bottles near you (around here the Amish or Mennonite stores often carry them), the best commercial brand that I have personally used is PET, full fat buttermilk. Full FAT. This is not a fat joke. This is gospel.
For tools you need something to “cut in” your fat– you can use 2 knives, a fork, or a pastry blender. I absolutely recommend the Perfect Pastry Blender. It is the best blender I have ever used, with a flat bottom instead of curved. You will also need a rolling pin and something to cut the biscuits out with– a cutter with a sharp edge is necessary because something with a blunt edge (like a glass) will seal up the sides as it cuts down, keeping the biscuit from rising at it bakes. Give your biscuits the chance to fly. Use a sharp cutter. I have even used a soda can, cut in half, in a pinch. Just be careful of the edges.
Another thing that all biscuits need is a HIGH TEMPERATURE. Whewwwww baby it’s getting hot in heahhhh!!!
You can do everything else right, and if you put biscuits in the oven at say, 350, they will basically melt into pancakes all over your pan. The fat will melt instead of puffing up and making them rise. So, see? It might have been the oven’s fault all along, and not yours. Bad, bad oven!
*NOTE* This is really not your fault. All your life you’ve been making the canned biscuits at 350. So you naturally think that real biscuits should be baked at 350 too. Nope. Fake biscuits . . . who knows what is in those. Real biscuits you have to keep the fat cold and let it hit the high heat immediately. Some people even refrigerate their biscuits prior to baking to keep them perfectly cold. Then into the 475 degree oven and POOF!!!! Magic happens.
The actual biscuit creating process is fairly simple (more on the mixing process here). Put your dry ingredients into a bowl, cut in your cold fat with a pastry blender (I keep my shortening in the fridge for this reason). Gently mix in buttermilk (it’s almost more of a “lick the side of the bowl” action with the dough ball in the center. This keeps the dough from being overmixed and tough). Gently roll out your dough on a floured surface. Make a “business fold” and roll again. Do this 3-4 times– the folding gives the biscuit amazing, fluffy layers. Then cut out your biscuits with a floured cutter and put them on a greased baking sheet, without sides touching. Brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt. Bake at 475 for 10 minutes, check and rotate pan, and then bake for 2 or so minutes more, until the tops and bottoms of the biscuits are golden brown and PEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRFECTTTTTTTT.
Now. I know you are all baking gods and goddesses, so this process is not new to you. But let’s talk about the ingredients. Let’s talk about what each ingredient DOES. And let’s help you decide how to make your ideal of the perfect biscuit– not what some random recipe tells you is the perfect biscuit.
To start with . . . FAT. (You aren’t fat darling. You look fantastic.). I made several batches of biscuits. I used the real, glass bottle, flecks of butter buttermilk in all of them. I used White Lily self rising flour in alllllll of them. I used the Perfect Pie blender for all of them, and in all of the recipes I made these the same way, with the same antique floured biscuit cutter (which I once found at a flea market). So the only things that changed were my variable ingredients, so you can see the difference for yourself.
PS. You’re beautiful. Not fat at all.
Let’s take a look at the differences in fats, and what they did to our little darlings. I took some pictures for you so that you can compare. As far as fats go, this is what I have personally found in my own baking:
- Cold butter. All butter biscuits are very tasty, but they are heavy and dense. You can see from the photo that the all butter biscuits are like tempting little nuggets. They don’t keep their shape quite as well during baking. They don’t rise quite as high. But DANG are they good. You can see in the photos that the butter biscuits didn’t rise as tall as the shortening ones did. But they were DEEEELICIOUS.
- Shortening. All shortening biscuits rise like a dream. They are filled with fluffy, incredible layers. But they are basically tasteless. NOW remember class I said earlier I would talk about the Butter flavored Crisco? I’m so glad you remembered. You get an A+ for the day. Butter flavored Crisco is the perfect marriage between the flavor of butter and the light, airy layers of shortening. This is what I use every time I make biscuits– just make sure that you keep your shortening in the fridge so that it’s cold when you add it.
- Lard. Honestly, I’m not a fan of cooking with lard. It has a weird, “cling to me baby!!!” texture that seems to stick on everything. But if the almighty Cracker Barrel uses it, you know it tastes good. Personally I prefer Butter Crisco. But you’re the goddess in your kitchen. Go your own way on that one. Whatever fat you use, make sure it’s cold.
Darling, I want you to open up to me. I care about what is INSIDE!!!! Hehe.
I cut into both of these little guys for you so that you can see for yourself what they look like. The pure butter biscuit is definitely more dense. This density comes from not rising as high. It also spread into a slightly rounder shape while baking. But DAGNABBIT that taste. *swoon* These butter biscuits are heavy. Like, if you eat more than one you may need an insulin shot. But you’ll die happy. You may die in a coma, but it will be a happy coma.
Oh my gosh you will be so happy.
The shortening biscuit is noticeably lighter. You can see the air pockets in the layers– that is from all the “poof!” of the shortening. This biscuit held its shape better, it rose taller, and it kept a “crown” of flatness on top, as opposed to the more rounded, butter-based biscuit. This was extremely tasty too, due to the butter flavored Crisco. If I had used plain shortening, unfortunately it would be bland. If you use butter shortening, you’re golden. Literally.
But let’s face it. Ain’t nobody gonna’ turn either one of these babies down. (For reference, shortening is still on the left, and butter on the right).
Um, yeah. Case in point. *sounds of snuffling and chewing*
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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