Well, butter my biscuits.
In the hierarchy of American comfort food, there is nothing quite like tender, high-rise buttermilk biscuits, still warm from the oven. The kind with so many flaky layers that they split open by hand, waiting to be slathered in fresh butter and jam.
And then there are bad buttermilk biscuits. In theory, there is no such thing as a bad biscuit, because biscuits are wonderful. But some biscuits come pretty close: dry, hard lumps that seem to be a Frankenstein’s monster forged in a dank, medieval scullery from rock, stale crackers, and paste.
Happily, bad biscuits can be someone else’s problem. You are making the good kind.
You may also like: Perfect Pie Dough and Buttermilk Birthday Sprinkle Cake
Three Big Secrets to Good Biscuits
This recipe for high-rise buttermilk biscuits relies on a simple layering technique, and an overall “less is more” approach. The less you work the dough, the flakier and more tender the biscuits will be.
The main things to keep in mind are:
- Use very cold butter. You want small lumps of butter to still be visible in the dough. When the biscuits go in the oven, the butter will melt and cause steam. This buttery steam, in turn, helps produce flaky layers and a higher lift to the biscuits.
- The less you work the dough, the better. The more the dough gets kneaded, folded, patted, and stirred, the more gluten will activate and make things chewy instead of flaky. Luckily, this recipe is for a square biscuit, so there are virtually no extra scraps or wasted dough to re-gather and cut.
- Bake them at a high temperature. A nice, hot 425° oven helps give the biscuits a nice oven spring, or initial rise caused by the reaction to the heat.
- Eat them fresh. Biscuits are best hot right out of the oven. They will go stale quickly.
PRO TIP: You can make the biscuit dough in advance and freeze it until you want to bake them. No need to thaw first — just pop them right in the preheated oven. They will take around five extra minutes to bake.
Best Buttermilk Biscuit Basics
The way to a better biscuit is 10 percent ingredients, and 90 percent technique.
- First, add cold butter to the flour and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the butter is the size of small peas, but still visible in the flour.
- Then, add the buttermilk and use your fingers to gently stir until it is all just combined. The dough should look shaggy, and not like a smooth ball.
- Turn the dough out onto the countertop. Press it, divide it into sections, stack them, roll or pat them out again, Then cut, egg wash, and bake.
PRO TIP: Egg was serves to add color and gloss to the top of the biscuits. The egg’s protein, when baked, produces a Maillard reaction, which causes browning. If you con’t want to make an egg wash, just brush a little extra buttermilk on top.
Eat them hot from the oven. And don’t forget butter and your favorite preserves.
High-Rise Buttermilk Biscuits
- 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 rounded teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, diced
- 1 1/8 cups cold buttermilk
- 1 egg, lightly whisked (optional; this is for the egg wash but you can also just use a little more buttermilk on top of each biscuit)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Whisk the flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder together In a large mixing bowl.
- Add the cold, diced butter and work with fingers until the butter is the texture of small peas. The butter does not have to be too combined – there should still be loose flour.
- Add the buttermilk into the flour and butter mixture and mix until the buttermilk has been absorbed. The dough should be shaggy but hold together.PRO TIP: See the Perfect Pie Dough recipe for detailed explanations on how to dice butter, and what a "shaggy" dough looks like.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface. Gather and pat it into a square about 1/2" thick. Divide the square into four equal parts, then stack them on top of one another. Re-pat the dough into another 1/2" thick square. (If things get too sticky, you can lightly dust with more flour.)
- Trim the edges to create a straight border, and divide the dough into 12 biscuits.
- Brush the tops of each biscuit with the egg wash or a little buttermilk, and place them on two baking sheets, leaving at least an inch of space between each biscuit.PRO TIP: If you do not leave enough space between each biscuit, they will rise unevenly and slump.
- Bake for around 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown.