We have to start by talking about flour. Southern cooks are quick to tell you there’s only one flour when it comes to making biscuits and that’s White Lily (and no, this is not sponsored). White Lily flour is milled from a soft winter wheat which gives it some distinct advantages in terms of biscuit making. This wheat is low in protein. And protein is what creates gluten when it’s introduced with liquid. Gluten is what gives things like baguette and pizza dough its deliciously chewy texture. But we don’t want chewy biscuits, so we want to do everything we can to reduce the gluten formation when making biscuits. Starting with a flour that is lower in protein means there’s less gluten development. It’s a little insurance policy against gluten, if you will. Less gluten means tender, flaky, high-rising biscuits.
Now, I much prefer to go with White Lily Self-Rising flour because it already has the baking powder and salt well mixed in and saves me a few steps. I like to buy it in smaller bags and then store it in the freezer for a longer shelf life. (I also keep self-rising flour around to make my delicious Pecan Chewies.)
If White Lily All-Purpose flour is all you have around, simply add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for every cup of flour that you’ll need.
How you measure your flour is also super important. I prefer the spoon and level method. While there isn’t really a need to sift the flour these days, I usually run a fork through it to lighten it up a bit. Then, use a spoon to spoon the flour into your dry measuring cup and then level it off. That’s one cup. Jamming the cup into the flour will often pack more flour in the cup and will throw off your liquid to flour ratio.
Next comes the fat. My grandmother always used lard. My mom always used shortening. Me, on the other hand, I like to use butter. Butter adds delicious flavor to biscuits that you just don’t get with some other fats. And since butter isn’t a solid fat like lard and shortening – it has some milk solids and water in it – it also helps make biscuits better. The milk solids help the biscuits brown even more and the water turns into little pockets of steam when the biscuits are baked giving us lighter flakier biscuits.
Now this is the part about making biscuits that folks get all worked up in a lather about – cutting the butter into the flour. So let me break this down. All we’re doing is cutting the butter up into small pieces – about the size of a pea. That’s it. You can do this quite a few ways. My modus operandi is to pull out my trusty pastry blender and just go to town cutting that butter up into tiny little pieces. You can also use two knives, a fork or two, or try this… Throw your butter in the freezer and then use a box grater to grate the butter right into the flour. This takes all the guess work out of the process and it makes it super straightforward. Once you’ve grated it, just stir it all together. Easy peasy.
Next… liquid. And my liquid of choice is cultured non-fat buttermilk. Buttermilk gives a biscuit its signature flavor and the acid in buttermilk helps to give the baking powder even more lift. I choose non-fat because with all that butter, we don’t want too much fat in our biscuits or they’ll get heavy. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have buttermilk around, you can make a buttermilk substitute (and it’s a substitute, not actual buttermilk) by adding about a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of whole or 2% milk and allowing it to curdle for a few minutes. It’s not exactly the same but will work if it’s all you’ve got.
With this recipe, I start with about 3/4 of a cup of buttermilk and just stir it into the flour and butter mixture. Stir it until everything is moist, but be cautious not to over stir – you’ll create unwanted gluten. The dough should be a bit shaggy and rough-looking and should kind of be the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. If it’s too sticky, add a little flour. Too thick or not holding together, add a little buttermilk.Then turn it out onto a floured surface. This can be the countertop, a pastry mat, etc. Watching the video here will be super helpful with this step. Knead the dough a few times to get it all together then flatten it out into a rectangle. You can use a rolling pin here, but I just use my hands. Fold the dough over on itself in a tri-fold fashion to help create those flaky layers, then flatten back out into a rectangle. You’ll want to do this tri-fold thing 3 or 4 times to get all those flaky layers in there. Then, flatten the dough out to about 3/4 to 1-inch thick.
Use a sharp biscuit cutter to cut the biscuits out. Dull edged things, like a glass, can often seal the edges of the biscuits together and prevent them from rising. Also be sure to use a quick up and down motion to cut the biscuits out. Don’t twist the cutter. This will also seal those edges together. Then transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or some parchment paper. Placing the biscuits on the pan nearly touching will result in super tender edges that will rise even more. Giving them a little more space between each biscuit will yield crunchier edges, but they might not rise as high. Then smoosh all the dough together and knead it a few times before flattening it out and cutting more biscuits out. There’s not really a need to do the tri-fold layering thing again at this point.
The other option here is to use a pizza cutter when you first flatten the dough out and cut the dough into roughly 3-inch squares. It will keep you from having to rework the dough and save you some time. Yeah, you’ll have square biscuits, but they’ll be just as delicious.
Brush the biscuit tops with a little melted butter and bake! You can also brush melted butter on them when they come out of the oven too. What!?! I told you there was going to be a lot of butter!
There you have it. Super delicious, mile-high, flaky, tender, buttermilk biscuits. And they really weren’t that hard, were they?
The thing is, like I said before, biscuit making is an art and it may take a few tries for you to get them just like you like them. Just don’t give up. Get back in there and make them again. The truth is that a bad biscuit is still a pretty good biscuit. Seriously.
Easy Buttermilk Biscuits
- 2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
- 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup cultured nonfat buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking pan with a silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, measure the flour by spooning it into a dry measuring cup and leveling it off.
- Next, cut the butter into the flour. Do this by using a pastry blender to cut the butter into pieces the size of a small pea. Or freeze the butter and grate it on a box grater then stir the flour and grated butter together.
- Add the buttermilk and stir until just combined. The dough should be like thick mashed potatoes, but not too sticky. Add a little more flour if too sticky, or a little more buttermilk if it won't hold together.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times if it's not holding together too well. Flatten the dough out into a rectangle and fold it over on itself in a tri-fold fashion. This helps to create those flaky layers. Continue lightly dusting the dough and the counter with flour to keep things from sticking. Then flatten it out into a rectangle again and tri-fold once more. You'll want to do this about 3 times.
- Finally, flatten the dough out into a rectangle that's about 3/4 to 1-inch thick and use a floured, sharp 2 to 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter to cut the dough out using a quick up and down motion - being sure not to twist the cutter. Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking pan, placing them nearly touching for soft, tender edges or farther apart for crunchier edges.
- Rework the dough and flatten it out to cut more biscuits out. You should get between 10 and 12 biscuits. Brush the tops with the melted butter and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.