Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

I grew up on two kinds of biscuits, the kind that came from a box mix and the kind that came from a can.

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-03

None were Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits, though we loved them just the same. We especially liked the ones from the can that had a million layers.  My brothers and sisters and I would spread butter in between each layer and let it melt.

Then we would peel off each layer and eat them one at a time.  Yeah, those were healthy good times ;)  If our biscuits didn’t come from a can, then we’d get some fresh made drop biscuits from a box.  Of course, they were simply just another vehicle for butter and we loved them as well.

Then a breakfast restaurant opened up in our neighborhood and I remember ordering my first, made from scratch, Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit.

No layers, no can, no box…just a pillow of warm, fluffy goodness.  Spread with a little butter and a drizzle of honey?  I was in biscuit loving heaven!

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-02

Later, in high school, I got a job at a fast food restaurant. It doesn’t exist anymore, but it was fast food that was completely made fresh and from scratch, an idea hatched well before it’s time.

We scrubbed and fresh cut potatoes for fries, made each of the burger patties and cleaned chicken (ugh, that was a dreaded job.) We did everything, including making biscuits from scratch for breakfast.

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-06

I still remember the giant stainless steel bowl we would use to make them. The buttermilk was so ice cold, it was almost painful to mix up the dough, but those were some amazing biscuits.

Do I remember the recipe?  No…I baked a lot back then, but I had not yet become a huge collector of recipes.  I was a teenager, just living in the moment.

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-04

More than a few years ago, I decided to figure out how to make a perfect Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit at home.  I tried lots of different recipes to get a feel for how they would react. All butter, all shortening, cream?  I researched processes and philosophies.

I tried all kinds of flour and different brands of baking powders.  I finally found a recipe and figured out which ingredients and processes that gave me exactly what I was looking for in a perfect biscuit. Let’s start with flour because every detail matters.

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-02

We’re only going to talk about all purpose flour today. (The photo above is the flour after I’ve cut in the butter and shortening.) I have at least 5 different kinds of flour in my pantry at any point in time.  I could go into a long discussion about protein levels in different flours or different qualities of the different brands, but instead I will tell you the brands that work well for me for this recipe.

I use Gold Medal or Pillsbury unbleached all purpose flour.  When I’ve used King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill (two great flour manufacturers and some of my favorite flour brands,) I don’t get the same results.

King Arthur’s has a slightly higher protein percentage which I’ve always assumed to be the cause. I’ve even tried the famed White Lily, a softer lower protein flour, and didn’t get the results or taste that I wanted.

I use the other brands for other recipes, but for these biscuits, your basic all purpose flour from Gold Medal or Pillsbury will work the best.

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-01

I’ve also found that all baking powders are not created equal.  In that research, I’ve found that none work better than King Arthur’s Bakewell Cream Baking Powder. I have to special order it from KAF, which is a pain, but now that I’ve made my biscuits with it, I can’t go back to another brand.

The difference is too significant for me.  That being said, you really can make these biscuits with different flours and different baking powders and they will still be very good.  But they never seem to reach the fluffy tender and delicious heights that they do when I use these particular ingredients.

I’ve had people make this recipe and not have it turn out “just like mine.”  So, these are the tips that should insure your success. The recipe itself comes from Alton Brown.  Some people swear by it, others have not had the best of luck.

I love it because it uses only 4 tablespoons of fat, less than many other recipes, yet creates the kind of biscuit that is perfect for me.

The process of making them is also important.  I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t handle biscuits too much.  But, you can also handle them too little.  I was carefully mixing them up and kneading them only a few times, worried that I would end up with flat dense biscuits.

But, kneading them a little bit more, until I had a smoother dough, each turn creating more layers for the butter to fluff up? That was a good move.

I switched from kneading only 5 or 6 times to more like 10 or 11.  Of course if you overdo it, you will develop too much gluten and end up with a tough biscuit.

I don’t use a biscuit cutter.  Why? Because the first cutting of biscuits is the best.  Taking scraps and re-rolling them always produces a biscuit that is not good as the first.  Why settle for second best? I pick quality over shape and just do one cutting.

After cutting, there’s one more tip….flipping the biscuits upside down before baking ensures a more even rise.  Then, I just brush with some buttermilk and bake.

Don’t let the long post or multiple videos dissuade you from making these biscuits.  They’re super easy.  Really.  I taught my daughter and husband how to make them and they came out fantastic.

If they can do it, you most definitely can.  It’s really a fast one bowl recipe.  You’ll have them mixed up and on a pan in about 10 minutes or less, once you get the hang of it.  Then, after about 15 minutes in the oven, you’ve got some ridiculously delicious hot and fluffy biscuits.  With butter and honey?

fluffy-buttermilk-biscuits-03

There’s nothing better…

Once you’ve mastered making this biscuit dough…you can use it for other recipes like Buttermilk Biscuit Cinnamon Rolls!

buttermilk-biscuit-cinnamon-rolls

 

Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

Yield: 9 biscuits

Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (see note)
  • 2 Tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, (cold and cut into cubes)
  • 2 Tablespoons shortening (I use non-hydrogenated)
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • extra buttermilk for brushing tops

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Using a pastry blender or your finger tips, quickly cut shortening into flour mixture until combined.
  4. After you've cut in the shortening, cut cold butter into the flour mixture until you have various sizes no larger than peas. (See picture within post to see how this should look.) This should also take less than a minute. You want your butter to stay cold so work quickly.
  5. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk.
  6. Working from the outside in, bring the flour into the center with a large spoon, scooping and turning bowl until the buttermilk is incorporated into the flour. Use a light hand here. We're not vigorously stirring, but simply gently tossing the flour together with the buttermilk until it's combined.
  7. Turn the wet sticky dough out onto a well floured surface. Keep a small pile of extra flour on hand to add to your surface or your hands as needed. You'll see in the video that I'm pretty liberal about using the flour in this step.
  8. Flour your hands and bring dough together, then lightly fold it in half in a gentle kneading motion.
  9. Do this about 10-11 times until your dough comes together and is beginning to feel smooth.
  10. Pat dough into a rectangle or square just under an inch thick.
  11. Using a floured knife or something long enough to make one cut across the dough, cut the dough into desired sizes. I usually make big biscuits and cut mine into 9 pieces.
  12. Turn biscuits upside down and place onto an ungreased baking sheet, close together but not touching.
  13. Brush tops with a little bit of buttermilk and bake until they have risen nice and tall and are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Notes

*Biscuits can be stored overnight at room temperature, wrapped lightly in foil. Even though they are best the first day, they reheat nicely in a toaster oven.

*I use coarse kosher salt which ends up adding less salt for the same measurement because it is coarse. If you use table salt as well as salted butter, you may want to reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon. (Updated on 2/22/15)

*If you like your biscuits crusty on all sides, place them far enough apart on the baking sheet so that they don't touch another biscuit when they bake. They may also bake in less time, so keep an eye on them.

*If you prefer cutting your biscuits into shapes, roll or pat the dough and cut with a floured cutter. Push straight down with the cutter and do not twist to release it as you may seal the edges of the dough, making it more difficult for them to rise. Re-roll the scraps and cut again. (This is not my preferred method)

Recipe from Alton Brown's Southern Biscuits

The Merchant Baker © 2015