True Southern-style biscuits are light, tender, and a little bit flaky. Choosing a softer wheat flour makes for a tender crumb. And a little bit of lamination, or folding the dough over, creates beautiful layers for melting in butter and jam. As any Southern baker will tell you, it's not the recipe that makes the biscuit. But the method.
Southern-style buttermilk biscuits from scratch require just a few ingredients and even less fanfare. Tender, slightly crisp biscuits with just enough flakiness to boast about are a Southern staple. Perfect for melting butter, spreading homemade jam, or smothering in sausage gravy. And no one recipe is the secret to memorable, perfect biscuits. It's all in the technique and the ingredients (one of a chef's favorite mantras).
And while you can certainly go to great lengths folding and turning and turning and folding the dough, Southern cooks don't fuss that much. Not over biscuits, anyway.
The Flaky Layers
But if beautiful, visible layers are your heart's desire, the method is straightforward, if not a bit tedious. And it's not a new phenomenon like bakers with viral aspirations pretend. Professional pastry chefs have been practicing the technique for centuries. It's called dough lamination. And is the process that creates crumbly, flaky croissants and puff pastry delights.
With just a couple of folds and turns, your homemade biscuits can form flaky, eye-catching layers, too. In my experience, the more you laminate, the longer the dough benefits from chilling before baking.
Biscuits are fairly forgiving to ingredient substitutions and work with a variety of different wheat flours and types of milk. Gluten-free flours and plant-based dairy alternatives can yield significantly different (but still delicious) results.
- Soft wheat, pastry, or all-purpose flour. Aim for wheat flour with less than 11% gluten protein content. White Lily is popular in the South, and pastry flour or all-purpose can work well, too.
- Unsalted butter or lard. In modern times, butter is the standard. But plenty of bakers swear by lard for its flavor. The water content in butter will help the biscuits rise, and lard won't have this effect. So choose what like depending on your biscuit goals. If you use lard, freeze it first.
- Buttermilk. Lends its signature tang and activates the baking soda for a nice browning of the biscuits.
- Baking powder. Creates the rise, I recommend one without aluminum.
- Baking soda. Brings a little golden brown color during baking. If you substitute whole milk, leave it out.
- Salt. I like kosher or fine flake sea salt. Use half the amount of table salt.
On Gluten Content in Flour
The gluten proteins in wheat flour are what give structure to baked goods by forming elastic bonds with each other. Higher gluten content equals a larger number of bonds in the mixed dough. And a sturdier (or potentially tougher) crumb.
So for deliciously delicate biscuits seek out a soft wheat flour. Bakers across the South (including this New Orleans native) prefer White Lily which clocks in at 9% gluten. But since I left the Southeast long ago, I can't find it locally and often reach for pastry flour. Or I use Gold Medal all-purpose because it's around 10.5% to 11% gluten, widely available, and affordable.
Any reliable biscuit recipe will adhere to this ratio of ingredients. Slight variations in the amount of fat or liquid still make for scrumptious homemade biscuits. But baking is a science. And chefs rely on these professional formulas for a reason: they work every time. I enjoy a buttery biscuit, so the fat content in this specific recipe is a little more than one part's worth.
3 parts flour + 2 parts milk + 1 part fat
Baking formulas call for measuring ingredients by weight. And you will need one to two teaspoons of baking powder for every 5 ounces of flour.
Southern biscuits from scratch rely on the rubbed dough, or cutting-in, method. Which simply means cold butter, lard, or vegan alternative is rubbed into the dry ingredients by hand or with a tool. Then for old-fashioned Southern biscuits, you add milk, gently mix, never-ever use a rolling pin, and bake immediately. Modern trends call for grating the butter and extreme lamination (a series of folds, turns, and rolling).
Since Southern-style biscuits are both tender and a little flaky, my method splits the difference. It adheres to tradition while incorporating newer techniques that make the process faster, easier, and more consistent.
Translation: fluffy, flaky, fuss-free biscuits.
- Grate the butter and mix with the flour.
- Stir in the buttermilk.
- Shape, fold, and turn twice.
- Roll (or press) and cut.
- High-heat baking.
And since no Southern family waits around at length for biscuits (I know from experience), this takes about 30 minutes from start to jam-and-butter finish. You can laminate the biscuit dough up to three times if your patience allows.
And you can even make the dough ahead and freeze it overnight for flakier, loftier biscuits (the water in the butter will quickly turn to steam in the oven and create more rise).
For the flakiest biscuits use very cold butter. Popping it in the freezer for a few minutes makes grating it easier. Without a box grater, cut the butter into tiny pieces and rub it in quickly with your fingertips. Or pulse cubed butter with the dry ingredients in a food processor.
- Preheat the oven to 425° F. For lighter-in-color, softer biscuits set it to 400° F.
- Combine the dry ingredients and grate in the butter. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Roll the stick of butter in the flour mixture and grate it into the bowl with the large holes of a box grater. With your fingertips, gently toss and rub the butter into the flour.
- Stir in the buttermilk. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pour in the buttermilk. Stir briefly with a wooden spoon or spatula until the dough forms large clumps and barely comes together.
- Laminate the dough (optional). Flour a large surface and turn the loose dough out onto it. With your fingertips, press the dough into a rectangle that's about 12" x 6", or just over a half-inch thick. With a bench scraper or spatula, lift up the short end(s) of the rectangle to fold it in half or in thirds. Turn it 90°, and press the dough out again to a half-inch thick rectangle. Repeat one or two more times. The more folds or "turns" you make the flakier the final biscuits.
- Shape. With your fingers and/or very gently with a rolling pin, shape the dough into a circle or rectangle that's a half-inch to an inch thick. Use your fingers or a bench scraper to push any crumbly dough into the edges. You can make the dough to this point, and freeze or refrigerate it overnight.
- Cut the biscuits. Allow frozen dough 20 minutes to soften at room temperature before cutting. Cut the dough into two-inch circles, squares, or even rectangles with a circular cutter, metal dough scraper, or knife. Dip and coat your cutting tool with flour every time. And push straight down and pull straight back up with your cutter. Press any remaining dough together and repeat. When cutting square biscuits with a knife, trim the rounded edges before cutting the biscuits to prevent lopsided rising.
- Bake and serve warm. Place the cut biscuits a half-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking pan or in an oiled cast-iron skillet. Brush the tops lightly with buttermilk or milk. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown on top. For deep golden and crispier biscuits, bake for 20 minutes. Serve biscuits immediately.
Storage and Reheating
Store biscuits in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. If you live in a humid climate, store biscuits in the refrigerator. Baked biscuits freeze very well. Reheat biscuits in a 350° F oven until warm all the way through. I like to wrap biscuits lightly in foil to prevent them from drying out.
- On laminating (folding) the dough. Growing up, my family never folded the dough when making biscuits from scratch. And many popular Southern restaurants serve up lofty, crumbly biscuits without a flake in sight. So if the thought of laminating the dough nixes your appetite, forget about it. This recipe works great for simple biscuits from scratch without the folding fanfare. Just mix the dough gently, press, cut, and bake.
- On leavening and substitutions. The chemical leavening agents in this recipe - baking powder and baking soda - each play their own part. The baking powder is responsible for 97% of the rise. In such a small amount, the baking soda helps the biscuits brown more than rise. So if you don't have baking soda, you can leave it out. If you don't have baking powder and want to substitute baking soda, use 1¼ teaspoons. And if you are substituting regular milk for buttermilk, stir a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice into it which will help activate the baking soda.
- On oven temperature. You can bake biscuits close to 450° F with success. Hotter oven temperatures will crisp and brown the bottoms and tops of the biscuits. Which some people love. And others find offensive. For lighter-in-color biscuits with a softer texture, bake the biscuits a little longer at 400° F.
Frequently Asked Questions
Biscuits can turn out lopsided because of the way you pressed, rolled, or cut the dough (I know, not incredibly helpful). To prevent lopsided biscuits, press straight down and back up with a well-floured biscuit cutter. And if you cut square biscuits with a knife, trim the edges of the rolled-out dough to create straight sides. Then cut the individual biscuits. And be sure to flour the knife or cutter heavily before each pass.
100%, yes. Biscuit dough freezes very well, and frozen dough actually bakes better with more rise. If you plan to freeze biscuit dough, I recommend first freezing the pressed-out dough for 30 minutes, then cutting it. Then freeze the raw biscuits in an airtight container. You don't need to thaw raw biscuits, simply bake them straight from the freezer brushed with a little milk, buttermilk, or melted butter.
- 9.5 ounces or 2 cups + 2 tablespoons of soft wheat or pastry flour, or 2 cups of all-purpose flour* (see Notes for measuring tips)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 4 ounces or 1 stick of unsalted butter, very cold
- ¾ cup of buttermilk, very cold
- Preheat the oven to 425° F. For lighter-in-color, softer biscuits set it to 400° F.
- Combine the dry ingredients and grate in the butter. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Roll the stick of butter in the flour mixture and grate it into the bowl with the large holes of a box grater. With your fingertips, gently toss it all together and rub any larger clumps of butter into the flour.
- Stir in the buttermilk and form the dough. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pour in the buttermilk. Stir briefly with a wooden spoon or spatula until the dough just comes together. Flour a large surface and turn the loose dough out onto it.
- Laminate or fold the dough (optional). With your fingertips, press the dough into a rectangle that's 12" x 6" or about a half-inch thick. With a bench scraper or spatula, lift up the short end(s) of the rectangle to fold it in half or in thirds (like a letter). Then turn it 90°, and press the dough out again into a large rectangle. Repeat one or two more times. The more folds or "turns" you make the flakier the final biscuits.
- Shape. With your fingers and/or gently with a rolling pin, shape the dough into a rectangle that's one-half to one-inch thick. The thinner the dough, the more biscuits you will get (but the shorter they will be). Use your fingers or a bench scraper to push any crumbly dough into the edges. You can make the dough to this point, and freeze or refrigerate it up to overnight. Allow frozen dough 20 minutes to soften at room temperature before cutting.
- Cut the biscuits. Cut the dough into 2-to-3-inch circles, squares, or rectangles with a round cutter or knife coated excessively in flour. Dip and coat your cutting tool before every cut. Press any remaining dough together and repeat. If you cut the dough with a knife, trim away the rounded edges before cutting the biscuits to prevent lopsided rising.
- Bake until golden. Place the cut biscuits a half-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking pan or in a greased cast-iron skillet. Brush the tops with buttermilk or milk. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown on top.
- Storage and reheating. Store leftover biscuits in an airtight container at room temperature, or freeze. Reheat biscuits in a 350° F oven until warm (the microwave turns them chewy).
Measuring the Flour
Depending on what type of flour you're using, the volume measurement will differ. So I highly recommend weighing your flour. But for reference, all-purpose flour is heavier than soft wheat, so you will need two cups even for this recipe.
- On dough thickness. The thinner you press or roll the dough out, the more biscuits you will get from any one batch. I like taller, flakier biscuits, so I tend to press my dough closer to one-inch thick. For more biscuits, press the dough out to a half-inch thick.
- On choosing flour. For the most tender biscuits reach for a lower-in-gluten flour (gluten proteins are what create tension in any dough). A soft wheat flour like White Lily (a Southern favorite) contains around 9% gluten protein. Pastry flour hits the same mark with 8 to 9% on average (and is what I often use). Gold Medal all-purpose flour is 10.5 to 11% gluten and is widely available and affordable.
- On substituting buttermilk. If you find yourself in need of biscuits but dont' have buttermilk, you can replace it with cow's milk or your favorite plant-based alternative. If you do, skip adding the baking soda since the buttermilk is what activates it. Or you can add a spoonful of white vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Breakfast
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegetarian
- Serving Size: 1 Biscuit
- Calories: 235
- Sugar: 1.2 g
- Sodium: 185.8 mg
- Fat: 12.6 g
- Trans Fat:
- Carbohydrates: 27.3 g
- Fiber: 1 g
- Protein: 4.1 g
- Cholesterol: 33.1 mg
Keywords: biscuits from scratch, buttermilk biscuits recipe, Southern biscuits
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