Why It Works
- Fully incorporating the butter and flour guarantees tender, airy biscuits every time.
- Low-protein flours keep biscuits fluffy and light, never tough.
- Using a Japanese or Korean brand of black sesame seeds ensures the best flavor.
- Buttermilk provides both hydration and structure, for biscuits that bake up straight and tall but moist.
- Baking soda neutralizes some of the buttermilk's acidity, helping the biscuits to brown.
- Patting the dough by hand keeps the biscuits light, as opposed to using a rolling pin, which can easily crush the soft dough.
A handful of black sesame seeds gives these otherwise classic buttermilk biscuits a slightly savory, nutty edge that's a brilliant match for Kenji's kimchi-marinated fried chicken, or a great simple accompaniment to any saucy dishes that could be sopped up with a biscuit.
That includes many traditional Korean or Japanese dishes, such as samgyetang, onsen tamago, or tonyu nabe. But to be honest, the mellow nuttiness of these biscuits will pair equally well with a generous smear of grape jelly.
If desired, a handful of thinly sliced scallions (including the white, pale-green, and dark-green parts) can be tossed into the dry mix after you've incorporated the butter.
- 18 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal (about 4 cups, spooned; 510g), plus more for dusting
- 1 ounce sugar (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
- 3/4 ounce (21g) roasted Japanese- or Korean-style black sesame seeds (see note)
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon (12g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 6 ounces cold unsalted butter (about 12 tablespoons; 170g), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 13 1/2 ounces cultured low-fat buttermilk (shy 1 3/4 cups; 385g), straight from the fridge (see note)
- Sesame oil, for brushing
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (200°C). Should your kitchen be warmer than 75°F (24°C), please see our guide to baking in a hot kitchen before getting started; the specifics are focused on pie dough, but the overall principles hold true for baking biscuits as well.
Sift flour into a medium bowl, then add sugar, black sesame seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk until well combined (this may take a minute or more). Add cubed butter, toss to break up the pieces, and smash each cube flat. Continue smashing and rubbing until butter has mostly disappeared into a floury mix, although a few larger, Cheerio-sized pieces may remain. (This can also be done with 4 or 5 pulses in a food processor; just take care not to overdo it.) The prepared mix can be refrigerated up to 3 weeks in an airtight container, then used as directed below.
Add buttermilk and stir with a flexible spatula until the flour has been fully absorbed. The dough will seem rather crumbly and dry at first, but keep mixing until it finally comes together. (Don't worry about over-mixing; until the flour has been fully incorporated, the greater concern is under-mixing.) Once the dough forms a rough ball, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
Using your bare hands, gently pat dough into a squarish shape about 1/2 inch thick, then fold in half; repeat twice more for a total of 3 folds, using only enough flour to keep your hands from sticking. Finish by patting the dough to a thickness of 3/4 inch. Dust away any excess flour, if necessary, then cut dough into 3-inch rounds and arrange closely in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Gather scraps into a ball, pat and fold a single time, then cut as many more biscuits as you can. The final round of scraps can be gathered and shaped into a single biscuit by hand.
Brush tops of biscuits with sesame oil and bake until biscuits are well risen and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let biscuits cool about 5 minutes to help set their crumb, then serve fresh, whether alongside soups and stews or as a base for a fried chicken sandwich.
3-inch round cutter (or similar cutter), 10-inch cast iron skillet
This recipe works best with commercial cultured low-fat buttermilk. DIY substitutes will lend a different viscosity and pH to the dough, affecting the dough's texture along with browning and rise. For more information, please see our explainer on buttermilk substitutes.
The processing methods and selection standards for Japanese and Korean brands of black sesame seeds produce the most robust flavor for this application, so avoid Western brands or unmarked bulk goods.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The biscuit dough can be prepared through step 2, then stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Leftover biscuits can be stored up to 1 week in an airtight container. To serve, split stale biscuits in half, brush with sesame oil, arrange on a baking sheet, and broil until golden brown.