Classic buttermilk biscuits

February 2, 2012 · 10 comments

biscuits-cutter

Isn’t there an old adage about a woman’s worth being determined by her biscuits?

Wait.

No, really. It’s like this thing that a woman either could or couldn’t do — make biscuits — and when a woman could do it, she never told anyone her secret. Her life-altering biscuits went with her to the grave.

(Ok, can we all agree that there’s no way to non-euphemistically discuss biscuits using the feminine possessive?)

I could have some baggage here. Once, my college boyfriend’s mother genuinely laughed at me — cackled even — when I told her I had never made biscuits (I had no idea why it was so funny). And while that scenario didn’t lead to the relationship’s demise, it is true that I did not marry into that family.

Truth be told, there are some secrets to making good biscuits. But I’m about to spill them all:

  • My buttermilk biscuits? Contain no buttermilk. Instead I make them with thinned yogurt. This happenstance was a result of buying buttermilk for 7 years for one recipe, then letting it go bad in my fridge (yes, it can go past the expiration date, but I learned you should never consume chunky buttermilk). A mixture of part whole milk plain yogurt, part milk did the trick quite nicely.
  • I love a mix of whole wheat and white flour in my biscuits. But to be successful, the whole wheat flour must be very fresh. Whole-grain flours start to go rancid within hours of being milled, so taste your flour — if it is bitter at all, or has any off-flavor, it is rancid. Milling your own (at home or at some groceries) is the best way to go — but buying in bulk at the health-food store is second-best. But again — taste before you buy — I’ve bought rancid flour from the health food store (and yes, I returned it, because I’m a grocer’s worst nightmare). Store whole-grain flours in your freezer.
  • The key to flaky biscuits is in the handling of the dough. You want to handle it as little as possible — really, think of how little you can possibly handle a dough, and handle it less than that. I learned this from my friend Sonja, who, truly, is famous in Asheville, NC, and likely the world over, for her biscuits. The first time I watched her, I couldn’t believe the mess of dough she thought was “mixed” and was about to start cutting from. But she proceeded, and  darnit if the results weren’t delicately flaking all over my plate.

My recipe is an amalgamation adapted from The Joy of Cooking and The Grit Cookbook. It goes like this:

Mix together your dry ingredients. Not wanting to dirty a whisk, I just toss it with my pastry cutter.

biscuits-butter

Cut your butter into small pieces, and scatter over top. Then cut them into the flour, until there are no pieces bigger than peas. Clean off the pastry blender as you go, using a knife — not your fingers, as your body heat will melt the butter, and that is something you don’t want to do.

biscuits-flour

Pour your yogurt/milk liquid over the flour all at once.

Using a rubber spatula, cut the liquid into the dry ingredients, pressing more than stirring. Do this as few times as you possibly can. Once it looks like a messy, tangled blob with streaks of dry flour still everywhere, gather it with your hands and gently press it into a ball. Then dump it onto a well-floured surface and press gently into a 1/2″ round (no rolling pin!).

(Here is a video to demonstrate. You might want to go grab a magnifying glass, because I rigged my iPhone to a pendant light to shoot this, and it was too far off, and I couldn’t figure out how to zoom my phone camera. Also disregard my bobbing head at the end. And maybe, while you’re at it, imagine some delightful background music, rather than nothing but the noise of a clinking bowl):

Cut into rounds or squares — I’ve used jelly jars, vintage cutters, and a dull knife to do this. Place them close-ish together on a baking sheet if you want them to bake up with sides attached. Get as much as you can with the first pass of the cutter — the ones you re-press will be tougher. Brush with melted butter, and bake. They can over-brown quick, so don’t walk too far away from your oven at the end.

biscuits-cutting

biscuits-onpan

biscuits-baked

And that’s it.

Maybe not proposal-worthy, but that’s just one reason I’m thankful for MrSheCooks, that didn’t marry me for my biscuits (he actually married me for my soup, but that’s another blog post).

…………………………………………………….

Recipe: Classic “buttermilk” biscuits

: yields about 18 2″ biscuits

Note that the photos and video above are showing a double recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour: a combination of 1 cup unbleached all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat (if wheat flour is not very fresh, do not use more than 1/2 cup)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • additional 1 Tbsp melted butter, for brushing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Get out a large ungreased baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt. Toss well with a whisk or pastry blender.
  3. Scatter cold butter over the top of the flour. Using pastry blender, cut in until no butter pieces are larger than a pea (clean blender w/ a knife, not hands).
  4. Combine yogurt and milk in a glass measuring cup, and stir well. Pour this over the flour all at once.
  5. Using a plastic spatula, gently cut and press the flour and milk as few times as possible to form a scrappy, barely-cohesive mass of dough (streaks of flour should still be visible).
  6. Gather dough with floured hands, and dump onto a well-floured surface. Gently press into a 1/2″ thick square or circle.
  7. Using a knife or cutter, cut biscuits out of dough, using as much of dough as possible. Re-press scraps together, and continue until all dough is used.
  8. Arrange biscuits on baking sheet — place close together if you want soft edges. Brush tops with melted butter.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until tops are golden.
  10. Serve immediately, these do not keep well.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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{ 9 comments }

Jennifer Cole February 2, 2012 at 9:53 am

Wow, I can just tell how flaky and buttery those are by looking at that chunky dough. Yum! I have a really old (1930’s) pastry-dough-cutter that was my grandma’s. Yours remind me of hers. :) Oh, and I was just waiting to hear your lovely, silky-southern voice narrating your hand-work on the video :)

katy February 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I love that pastry cutter! For years I used an OXO wire cutter, but then found this one at a thrift store or estate sale, and now it’s my fave.

Maybe someday I’ll add my drawl to the Sky Cam ; )

Amy February 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I wish you’d try to figure out Aunt Mae’s sour-dough biscuit recipe. I’d give just about anything to taste those things again, thought I doubt anything you or I would ook could live up to my memories!

Dad February 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Mae’s were more of a roll than buscuit weren’t they?

We’ve been buying frozen “homemade buttermilk buscuits” by the bag at our Farmer’s Market. Just keep um in the freezer till you’re ready and bake just enough for dinner. They are reasonably priced and no mess! Papa likes them but I don’t think they are as flaky as yours appear to be.

Guess we’ll have buscuits when we visit, huh.

Dad

katy February 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Yes, I think more roll than biscuit. I can try to dig up a similar recipe, but likely wouldn’t try until I get my own sourdough starter up and running again.

Part of me thinks it could be something similar to an Amish friendship bread — Amy, have you ever tried those?

Amy February 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I have, but the recipes I’ve had have been much moister than I remember Aunt Mae’s rolls/biscuits being, and honestly, much sweeter. Maybe she had a variation on the recipe.

leigh February 3, 2012 at 7:01 am

My grandmothers both baked biscuits every day for decades and I learned that it should take less than a minute from adding the liquid to putting in the oven. Fast fast fast! But this is very IMPORTANT: DONT TWIST THE JAR, CUTTER OR GLASS WHEN YOU CUT THEM OUT! Just press down and lift up with no twisting. Twisting pinches the edges down and keeps the biscuits from rising higher! Also, try Martha Foose Hall’s sweet potato biscuits. Yummy and easy!!

katy February 3, 2012 at 8:54 am

Leigh, first off: WOW, every day. That’s so impressive. No doubt, they were known for their biscuits!

I’ve never heard not to twist, but will hereby never twist again. And a single minute from liquid to oven? I can totally see why this would work — the leavener begins working immediately — but that’s gonna take some practice. It will be my new goal!

Thanks so much for the tips!

Kasey Miller February 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I had the amazing privileged of Katy sharing these yummy guys at dinner this week and I was completely amazed! I even snuck one to-go after desert, I was so in love.

Thank you sharing your biscuit secret! :)

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