“You developed the buttermilk biscuit recipe in the magazine, right? We taught them in class and they were fantastic, so I made them for my husband over the weekend. He said they were the best biscuits he’s ever had, and he’s from the south…!” Hell yeah. These buttermilk biscuits are perfect.
What makes a perfect buttermilk biscuit? A biscuit should be soft and tender. It should have delicate, craggy layers and a deeply golden-brown and crunchy top. It should hold up to slicing and a hearty slather of butter and jam. Too often we meet biscuits that are pasty inside, with insipidly pale, smooth tops. I don’t have time for those biscuits.
Buttermilk biscuits take a little bit of practice to perfect, but there's no mystery to them. Many years ago, I was asked to develop a biscuit recipe inspired by 8arm in Atlanta. I can’t even remember how many batches I cranked out, but I learned everything I could, tried all kinds of "hacks," etc. The fact is, though, there is no secret to making good biscuits. It’s just practice and common sense. And starting with a good recipe. Winky wink.
Pro Tip: Use Cultured Butter in Your Biscuits
The difference between regular butter and cultured butter is significant when it comes to buttery flavor. For a cultured butter, live active cultures (aka specific strains of bacteria) are added to the cream before churning, much like making yogurt or cheese. The culturing gives the butter a slightly tangier, more robust flavor, but it doesn't taste like cheese. Rather, the culturing process makes it taste more buttery.
If you have the means, definitely make the biscuits using good, cultured butter. Ploughate Creamery and Vermont Creamery are two relatively big brands that are readily available in my area, but you may have different local options. If that's a bit pricey for you, use your standard butter in the recipe, and save the good stuff for serving at the table next to your jar of jam.
"Do I need to buy special flour for tender buttermilk biscuits?"
Nope! Biscuits should be tender, not tough, which means they need a gentle hand to prevent gluten from developing. Normally a very low-protein flour is used, like White Lily (which has a cult following) or standard pastry flour. But... You don't need special flour to get showstopping biscuits. It's more about ratios and being gentle with the dough.
To be honest, I got a LOT of pushback in the development kitchen when I tried to argue for plain ol' all-purpose. I made side-by-side batches, did blind tastings, and even snuck in a batch with high-gluten King Arthur bread flour without telling anybody. Nobody could tell. If you're a nervous baker then a lower protein flour might be a good confidence booster while you practice technique, but I promise you don't need it. The tenderness comes from the ratios and being gentle with the dough, not the protein content of your flour.
More Tips for Achieving Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits:
These couple of tips won't make or break your results, but they do help achieve fluffiness and consistency.
For your tallest and fluffiest biscuits-- don't twist, but consider a flip.
When you're cutting the biscuits out, it's tempting to press down with the cutter, then twist it back and forth a bit to make really sure you've cut all the way through the dough and loosen your round from the surrounding dough matrix. Don't. That twisting motion acts almost like a crimp, pinching the edges down and preventing a good rise in the oven.
Once you have cut your biscuit round out, place it on the sheet tray flipped upside down.
That is, the side that was on your cutting board or counter should become the top, which you will eventually brush with butter. The reason for this is similar to the no-twist rule: as you press down with the cutter, you are creating a lid of compressed dough that will resist puffing in the oven. Think of it as having downward momentum that the baking powder and steam have to work against. The bottom, on the other hand, doesn't get the same downward pressure. If you flip the biscuit, the new top is better primed to puff UP and get just that much more rise.
(Truly) Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits
- 1¼ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup cream
- 20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) salted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 480 grams (3¾ cups + 1½ tbsp) all-purpose or cake/pastry flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- Step 1Preheat your oven to 475°F with a rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Clear enough space in your refrigerator to fit your baking sheet. In a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and cream. Pop in the refrigerator until needed. Freeze the cubed butter on a plate or in a shallow bowl for 10 minutes.
- Step 2Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and mix for 10 seconds. Scatter in the cubed butter and pulse until the pieces are approximately ¼-inch big, about 15 pulses. Transfer to a large bowl, then pour in the chilled buttermilk mixture. Fold the ingredients gently until a shaggy dough forms and no powdery flour bits remain (a silicone spatula works best for this).
- Step 3Turn the dough out onto a counter lightly dusted with flour. Using your hands, and working quickly, gently knead the dough until just cohesive, only about 5 times. Pat and flatten until about 1¼-inches thick (roughly a 6- by 11-inch rectangle, if you like knowing the geometry). Using a 2½-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 8 biscuits. Gently knead the remaining scraps of dough to bring it together, pat to 1¼-inches thick, and cut out 2 more biscuits. Evenly space the biscuits on your prepared baking sheet, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 10 minutes.
- Step 4Brush the tops of the chilled biscuits with the melted butter. Bake until well-risen and deep golden brown, 12 to 16 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let the biscuits cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before serving.
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