I’ve finally done it.
After many years, and many tears, last night I produced a batch of biscuits that would make any little old Southern lady proud.
They were flaky. They were yummy. The insides were tender and soft as a cloud. The crust was crispy, buttery, and a little bit chewy, with a dusting of toasted flour on top. They were gorgeous and golden.
It hasn’t been an easy road. Every biscuit before had a fatal flaw.
Flat was a very frequent defect. This was solved in two ways.
First, I found the correct amount of leavening. Enough for lift, but not so much that tainted the taste.
Secondly, I used a method I’ve seen and read about, but never tried.
That’s it. For rise and flakiness roll or pat the dough into a rough rectangle, then fold it into thirds, flatten again, and refold. With laminated doughs like croissants this is done hundreds of times (usually a machine is used). I did my biscuit dough about 5 times.
Another problem that comes with pastry is developing the gluten in the flour which results in a tough product. Handling produces gluten. After adding buttermilk you can only manipulate it so much before it becomes tough and rubbery—so take care.
My biscuits were made with butter. Early in the day I retrieved cold butter from the fridge, and I grated it. That gave me very small bits. Then I put it into the freezer for a few hours. That gave me very cold bits. About 90 minutes before I baked off the biscuits I sifted together the dry ingredients. I took the butter out of the freezer and rubbed it into the flour until it looked like coarse corn meal. Then I put it back in the fridge until I was ready to finish making the dough and bake. Intact fat produces lightness and flakiness when the water in the butter turns to steam in the oven.
2 cups all-purpose flour + more for kneading and rolling
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Big pinch of sugar
7 tablespoons butter, grated and frozen
1 cup cold buttermilk
Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and baking soda together into bowl.
Cut frozen, grated butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Refrigerate for 90 minutes.
When ready to bake preheat oven to 425.
Pour buttermilk into butter and flour mixture. Mix in buttermilk just until there’s no liquid in the bowl. It will still need to come together more, but you’ll do this on the counter with very gentle kneading.
Turn onto a floured surface, and mix by hand until it becomes a rough-ish dough, using only as much flour you need. Shape into rectangle.
Fold the rectangle in thirds. Flatten back down and refold. Do this 3 or 4 more times.
Roll dough on a floured surface to about ½ inch thick. Cut out 12 biscuits using a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter.
Transfer biscuits to parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown, rotating pan 180 degrees midway through.
I won’t lie to you. Not only does this take practice and patience, it is a singularly messy enterprise. My hands looked like I’d dipped them in cement when I was done, and I don’t even want to talk about the state of my kitchen counter.
I think next time I’ll wear latex gloves…and maybe a drop cloth.
Thanks for your time.