There are a lot of “wrong” ways to make Southern-style buttermilk biscuits. Full disclosure; this is probably (technically) one of them.
I didn’t special order White Lily flour (a flour that is milled from soft winter wheat and widely used in the South to make light-as-air biscuits), I didn’t even use cake flour (which makes a great substitute because of its low protein content), and you won’t find any lard in my pantry. Basically, my biscuits aren’t very authentic.
I did, after all, grow up in western New York (far, far from the South) making “biscuits” from a blue cardboard tube (and with a tremendous amount of anxiety — slowly peeling the paper from the tube and wondering when the heck it was going to pop almost stopped my heart more than once).
The funny thing is, biscuits still cause me a bit of anxiety; I almost didn’t write this post because of it. Knowing so much about southern-style biscuits (and making them differently) makes me kind of self-conscious. But then I started thinking about something that I say all the time, “cooking (or baking) should make sense”; good food is food that you make with care, but without driving yourself crazy obsessing over hard-to-find ingredients or inaccessible techniques. Sure, there are times that you should challenge yourself and learn something new in the kitchen or go out of your way for a special ingredient, but good food doesn’t depend upon you doing those things.
Sometimes it’s ok to break a few rules in the kitchen. These biscuits do and they’re still delicious — and it’s tough to argue with deliciousness.
So, here’s what I think you actually need to know about making biscuits:
Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl and then incorporate cold, cubed butter by hand. You don’t want the heat from your hands to melt the butter so work quickly, using your thumb to roll pieces of butter over your fingers and break them up. Keep working the butter into the flour mixture until the it is about the size of lentils. Leaving small pieces of butter in the dough will create pockets of steam which help the biscuits rise.
Fold the dough over a few times and then pat it into a half-inch-thick disc. Cut rounds with a biscuit cutter or juice glass. Collect the scraps, reshape the dough into a disc, and cut another batch of biscuits. The third time, simply shape the dough into rough rounds (the more your roll the dough, the tougher the finished biscuits will be). Place all the biscuits on a parchment- or silicone mat-lined baking sheet.
Do you break any biscuit-making rules?
Southern-Style Buttermilk Biscuits
3 cups all-purpose flour (or cake flour, if you have it)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and well-chilled
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Add the cold, cubed butter by hand (working quickly) using your thumb to roll pieces of butter over your fingers and break them up. Keep working the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is about the size of lentils.
Make a well in the center of the flour and add the buttermilk. Mix just until a shaggy dough forms.
Fold the dough over a few times and then pat it into a half-inch-thick disk on a lightly-floured surface. Use a biscuit cutter or juice glass to cut rounds. Collect the scraps, shape them into a disc again, and cut more biscuits. Instead of shaping the dough a third time, simply press the remaining dough into rough rounds. Place all the biscuits onto a sheet pan that’s been lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Bake the biscuits until they’re tall and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Serve the biscuits warm.
A special thanks to Alton Brown; this recipe is based on his Southern Biscuits Recipe.