Buttermilk Biscuits: A Southern Icon
June 19, 2022
If you’re in search of flaky, buttery, homestyle Southern biscuits, then this recipe is for you.
A staple of Southern cuisine, buttermilk biscuits are a Texas heirloom food item steeped in nostalgia. There’s something very powerful about the deliciously distinct smell of freshly baked biscuits that makes them rapidly disappear once they’re placed on the table.
Authentic buttermilk biscuits are made specifically with Southern flour, such as that produced by the brands White Lily or Martha White. These brands are exclusively made with Southern wheat, which is naturally low in protein. Less gluten in the flour allows for chemical leaveners, such as baking soda, to generate carbon dioxide and form a softer, less chewy pastry. If Southern flour isn’t available, you can substitute it with any soft wheat flour.
When used together, butter and lard give biscuits their characteristic flakiness. The key to baking biscuits is to start with cold ingredients. To help the biscuits rise, the fat must always be kept cold, as cold fat creates air pockets when baked. These air pockets expand through the use of leavening agents, creating the flaky texture we all know and love. Ingredients with a high fat content, such as buttermilk, also add tenderness to the dough. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, buttermilk can be replaced with Greek yogurt – it has the same sour notes as buttermilk, giving the biscuits that authentic Southern taste.
Understanding the process
This easy-to-mix recipe used to make biscuits is a tad more complicated than it seems. The secret to making stellar biscuits is to focus less on the recipe and more on having a broader understanding of the preparation technique. Originally, biscuits were baked without baking soda and baking powder – the ingredients simply weren’t around back then! So traditionally, air was injected into the biscuits by patting down the dough with a mallet or rolling pin. Another way to get the biscuits nice and airy is by folding and rolling the dough onto itself repeatedly until layers are developed and flakes are formed. Striking a balance between folding and patting the dough makes for a gorgeously flaky biscuit. Most importantly, a light hand when mixing is essential for keeping the dough soft. Overworked dough develops too much gluten, resulting in a tough biscuit.
Traditionally, biscuits were breakfast staples, ready to be consumed with anything from eggs and bacon to fruit jam with clotted cream. Today, biscuits can be served any time of the day, are delicious eaten on their own, and will go with just about anything.
- 2 cups Southern flour
- ½ tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup packed ice-cold lard
- 2 tbsp ice-cold unsalted butter, diced
- ⅔ cup buttermilk
- Cut the butter into cubes and let it chill in the fridge.
- Weigh the lard and chill it.
- Sift the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt into a bowl.
- Toss the butter and lard into the flour using your fingertips, so they are fully coated with flour. Then, lightly rub the butter and lard in between your fingers. Continue this until all the butter has been rubbed into uneven pieces that are no larger than peas.
- Pour all but 2 tbsp of buttermilk around the edges of the bowl. The remaining buttermilk can be used if needed later. Use a spatula to lightly combine the buttermilk with the flour mixture. Continue until a scrappy dough starts to form. If the mixture is very dry, add the remaining buttermilk. To check, pick up a small amount of dough and squeeze it in your hand. If it holds together, then you’re ready to proceed with the next step.
- Dust a clean workspace with flour and scrape the dough into a pile. Quickly and gently use just the right amount of pressure to pat the pile of dough into a rectangle that is around two inches thick. As you’re patting it out, gently incorporate any crumbling edges back into the dough mass.
- Slide both hands under one side of the dough, lift it, and fold it over the remaining dough. Again, pat the dough roughly into a two-inch rectangle. Repeat the fold-and-pat process until the dough comes together. Remember to do the entire process with light hands.
- Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to one-inch thick.
- Flour a sharp cookie cutter and cut straight down into the dough. You may use a sharp knife to cut it if you want to make square biscuits.
- Transfer the biscuits to a non-stick cookie sheet and brush the tops with buttermilk. Bake at 425°F for 8–12 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through baking.
- Remove the biscuits from the oven – and they’re ready to eat!
Top tip: freezing unbaked dough Unbaked biscuit dough can be pre-cut and stored in an airtight container in the freezer. It can be stored frozen for up to three months.