I’m not going to lie and claim that I grew up making biscuits with my mother from scratch, or even talk about the first time I remember eating a biscuit, because I would be lying on both counts – we probably used the Pillsbury dough if we ever made them, and I really can’t remember the first biscuit I ever ate. That being said, going into college, I made several of them. After having an incredible biscuit from Sweet Cheeks Q in Boston, where they were literally the size of my fist, I spent a lot of sophomore through senior year of college trying to replicate it, or at least come close. That biscuit was soft, fluffy, gigantic, and super buttery. So I made sure that mine were similar, though not identical.
For any biscuit, you always need flour, leaveners(usually baking powder), butter, and some sort of dairy product, usually cream or buttermilk. I prefer using buttermilk in mine, since the cultures in buttermilk help the biscuit rise more and give it a softer crumb. Not everyone has buttermilk in their kitchen, and that includes me. I usually just make my own with milk and vinegar(recipe down below), since it’s super easy to do, and that way you don’t have to commit to buying an entire carton of buttermilk and feeling like you’re left not knowing what to do with it. Other things to keep in mind with your biscuits is how you form them. Keeping the butter cold is a must. The science behind how biscuits rise and get flaky or layered comes from the formation of gluten.
When flour gets wet, and then mixed, it forms gluten, which is a protein that brings it together. Too much gluten makes anything you’re making tougher or denser. However, when you mix cold, solid butter into flour, that goes not form gluten. In fact, the butter, since it’s a solid and not melted, actually coats each and every little granule of flour, keeping them from getting wet and forming too much gluten. When you mix the buttermilk into that, some gluten is formed, but not enough to the point where the dough is super tough. Taking your just formed dough, keeping it chilled, and doing the bare minimum in forming and shaping your biscuits are all key in making light, airy biscuits, as opposed to tough, dense hockey pucks.
If you mix and knead your dough a lot, you are “overworking” the dough, which results in the biscuits being dense, and usually raw in the center, no matter how long or hot you bake them for. That’s because by constantly folding and mushing the dough, you’re removing the air from it, as well as creating extra gluten, which causes the biscuits to become compressed balls of flour and butter that will never fully bake. So the key lessons in making biscuits is to keep the butter cold, make sure that you incorporate that cold butter into the flour properly, and shape your biscuits with as little pressing or kneading of the dough as possible so that they stay airy, light, and tender when baking them. I finish mine, optionally, with a little egg wash just for that golden exterior, but it’s not necessary if you don’t want to do it!
Makes 3 “big ass” biscuits, or 6 “small ass” biscuits:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, diced and kept cold
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a food processor, blend together the flour, baking powder, and salt with your butter first until it is fine and crumbly. Then in a separate container, mix the buttermilk with honey until at least partially combined. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and gently blend together. Pour the just-formed dough onto a floured surface. Shape into a rectangle, and cut into even square shaped pieces. Brush the tops of the biscuit pieces with some beaten egg. Only brush the tops, not the sides, or the biscuits will have trouble rising! Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes.
To make buttermilk from scratch:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
Mix together and allow it to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. I prefer to use apple cider vinegar, since I have that readily available, but any vinegar or even lemon juice would work!