Memaw's Buttermilk Biscuits

Note: While it's nice to pop pre-made biscuits into the oven, without having to wash a single spatula, the homemade ones are really where it's at. Our intern Tressa took control here, making us all wish we had Memaws too.

When I heard that a biscuit tasting was going down at Serious Eats, I volunteered to make my own batch. It seemed only right to have a homemade biscuit benchmark to remind us what the commercial biscuits were striving to be.

Buying biscuits is all well and good, if you must. It's better to have biscuits than no biscuits, I guess. But paying someone else to manufacture biscuits takes so much away from what biscuits should be. In my mind, biscuits should be homemade with love and simple ingredients, without machines and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Maybe the New York Times said these frozen biscuits are fine, but you won't catch me serving them.

Like so many other baked goods, people seem to get overly nervous about making their own biscuits. I won't deny that making biscuits takes time, but baking a batch is certainly not hard or complicated.

And for such simple and relatively inexpensive ingredients, talk about results! Biscuits don’t need to be pretty, perfect, or fancy. In fact, the biscuits I brought into Serious Eats HQ weren’t exactly lookers. I was in a rush baking them, plus they had to survive a subway commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, tucked into a bowl covered with a red dishcloth. I’d even go so far as calling them homely—emphasis on the home.

I love to bake, but I’m no biscuit expert. I'm from Northern Virginia, a part of the world that the North considers the South and the South considers the North. If I was going to bake biscuits to rival those of the venerable southern ladies such as Sister Schubert, I knew I’d need a recipe from one of their own.

So I turned to my boyfriend who was born and raised in Mississippi. Though he's cooked at four-star restaurants and for heads of state, he knows that nobody does biscuits better than his grandmother did. This recipe comes from Memaw, a mother of five who lived in Maben, Mississippi, her whole life. This Southern lady made these biscuits every morning for 50 years. You should take some time to try them at least once.

Memaw's recipe works well every time, because you start with cold ingredients, then after working them through (and consequently making them warm with the heat of your hands) the ingredients go back into the freezer. I like to cook my biscuits in a well-seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillet, but any baking dish will do.

I was so hurried when I made this batch, I didn’t even properly roll them out. I plopped the dough down, patted it into a rough square, cut the biscuits out with a glass, and threw them into my cast-iron skillet. You know what? It didn't matter; they still kicked the pants off every single frozen one we tried.

Thanks, Memaw.

Memaw’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Key biscuit wisdom: Do not twist the biscuit cutter when cutting out biscuits. Twisting compacts and seals in the layers. Pressing straight down, on the other hand, ensures that your biscuits will be flaky.

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Memaw's Buttermilk Biscuits

About This Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 stick very cold butter, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 cup very cold buttermilk

Procedures

  1. 1

    Preheat the oven to 450°F.

  2. 2

    . In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt till combined. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and drop into the flour mixture. Take the butter pieces between your fingers and press them until they are as thin as a nickel.

  3. 3

    Place the butter and flour mixture in the freezer for 15 minutes.

  4. 4

    Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small bowl and set aside for brushing the biscuits later.

  5. 5

    Lightly flour your work surface.

  6. 6

    Take the chilled flour and butter mixture out of the freezer. Slowly incorporate the buttermilk into the flour mixture. Gently fold the dough together with a spatula. The dough should not have any dry flour pockets and should not be overly sticky.

  7. 7

    Transfer the dough to your work surface and pat it into a rough square. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Using a 3 inch round cutter dusted with flour, cut out as many biscuits as you can. Do not twist the cutter; press the cutter straight down as you cut. Dip the cutter in flour between each cut. Gather the scraps and re-roll the dough until it’s 1 inch thick again and cut out as many biscuits as possible. You should end up with about 9 biscuits.

  8. 8

    Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter. Bake until biscuits look golden brown, about 17 to 20 minutes. Cool before serving—if you can wait that long.

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