Sunday mornings are easy. Lionel Richie said so. 80s references aside, Sunday mornings really are easy and one of my favorite things to do on Sunday mornings is make (and eat) biscuits. I have the perfect recipe to satisfy my craving–Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits.
Growing up, my mom made delicious biscuits using a recipe from a Watkins cookbook. I think a couple of my brothers memorized the recipe but I didn’t. I’ve experimented with various recipes through the years but my favorite–the ultimate flaky biscuit recipe–I got from Cook’s Illustrated. Cook’s Illustrated is a wonderful kitchen resource because it explains a lot of science behind baking and cooking. I appreciate that because I like understanding why I’m supposed to combine ingredients in a certain order or use them at a particular temperature, or use a specific type of pan or dish.
The secret to flaky biscuits is, in this case, flaky butter. From Cook’s Illustrated:
Using a food processor to combine butter and flour may be easy, but the pebble-shaped pieces it creates result in uneven flakiness. Working the butter into the flour by hand yields large, flaky chunks of butter, which, when rolled into thin sheets, produce a biscuit with distinct layers.
Apparently pebbles are nice for pie crusts, but not for pronounced layers that make biscuits divinely flaky. These super flaky biscuits are achieved by carefully handling the dough–pinching, folding, and refolding to create stratified layers of air, fat, and flour. You’ve got to get your hands into the mix, so to speak, and pinch butter slices between well-floured fingertips into flat, nickel-sized pieces.
The technique works. Some of my biscuits come out of the oven, not in lovely stacked layers, but with top layers looking like they almost slid off the bottom layers before they baked long enough to just hold. These are delicious and never disappoint. The recipe is a little more involved than most, but the end result is so worth the effort, especially on Sunday mornings. This recipe is from Sean Lawler in Cook’s Illustrated 2006.
- 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for work surface
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch chunks
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, lightly floured and cut into ⅛-inch slices, plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1¼ cups cold buttermilk, preferably low fat
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position: heat oven to 450 degrees.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
- Add shortening to flour mixture; break up chunks with fingertips until only small, pea-sized pieces remain.
- Working in batches, drop butter slices into flour mixture and toss to coat; pick up each slice of butter and press between floured fingertips into flat, nickel-sized pieces. Repeat until all butter is incorporated; toss to combine. Freeze mixture (in bowl) until chilled, about 15 minutes.
- Spray 24-inch-square area of work surface with nonstick cooking spray; spread spray evenly across surface with kitchen towel or paper towel. Sprinkle ⅓ cup of extra flour across sprayed area; gently spread flour across work surface with palm to form a thin, even coating.
- Add all but 2 tablespoons of buttermilk to flour mixture; stir briskly with fork until ball forms and no dry bits of flour are visible, adding remaining buttermilk as needed. Dough will be sticky and shaggy but should clear sides of bowl.
- With rubber spatula, transfer dough onto center of prepared work surface, dust surface lightly with flour, and, with floured hands, bring dough together into cohesive ball.
- Pat dough into approximate 10-inch square; roll into 18 by 14-inch rectangle about ¼-inch thick, dusting dough and rolling pin with flour as needed. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, fold dough into thirds, brushing any excess flour from surface; lift short end of dough and fold in thirds again to form approximate 6 x 4-inch rectangle. Rotate dough 90 degrees, dusting work surface underneath with flour; roll and fold dough again, dusting with flour as needed.
- Roll dough into 10-inch square about ½-inch thick; flip dough and cut nine 3-inch rounds with floured biscuit cutter back into flour after each cut. Carefully invert and transfer rounds to ungreased baking sheet, spaced 1 inch apart.
- Gather dough scraps into ball; roll and fold once or twice until scraps form smooth dough. Roll dough into ½-inch thick round; cut three more 3-inch rounds and transfer to baking sheet. Discard excess dough.
- Brush biscuit tops with melted butter. Bake, without opening oven door, until tops are golden brown and crisp, 15-17 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
If you have a favorite biscuit recipe, I would love to know about it. I’d give them a try!