/ story and photography by Forrest Clonts
I can’t pinpoint the moment when biscuits magically appeared in my life; they’ve just always been a part of my lexicon.
My most distinct memory is Great Aunt Lottie mixing fresh batches of biscuits for lunch when we visited. She kept her flour in a wooden flour bowl under the cabinet and mixed “just by feel” enough biscuits for the occasion. I haven’t picked up the knack to bake-by-feel like Lottie, but maybe after a few hundred dozen more, I will. I know for sure I’ll keep trying.
Over the years and countless batches, I have settled into my go-to recipe, but it’s methodology that has created a strikingly better biscuit. These are the three tips that vastly improved our family biscuit.
1. Keep your butter cold at all times.
Since this is the standard for better layers and lighter biscuits, I keep my butter in the freezer. But, cutting frozen butter is awful. Luckily, I discovered a grating wheel in a good food processor makes quick work of the task. It systematically chops butter down to the perfect size resulting in those wonderful flaky steam pockets later.
2. The more you work the dough, the tougher the biscuit.
Cutting out biscuits with a round cutter means reshaping, cutting, reshaping and cutting again, which left me with half a batch of great biscuits and another half that got progressively tougher. The fix was an easy quick change. Simply cut the dough with a knife into squares. Since your knife is sharper than a dough cutter, the edges don’t get squished resulting in an even fluffier, taller biscuit.
3. A biscuit is only as good as its layers.
To me, a good biscuit means splitting one open and adding toppings of your choice, from butter & honey to pimento cheese or barbecue. Halving and stacking the dough a few times during the process of rolling it out helps build in a couple of these layers, making it easier to split open for maximum enjoyment later.
Makes about 16 2-3” biscuits
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon salt plus a pinch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
Cut cold butter into small, pea sized, cubes. Alternatively, you can freeze your butter and push it through the grating disc on a heavy duty food processor.
Sift all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl, add butter pieces and stir or toss until mixed evenly. Rub larger pieces to break up. Pour in buttermilk and mix enough to incorporate all ingredients into a cohesive dough. It’s okay if you still have some loose flour.
Flour your surface well and turn out the dough. You can get precise with a rolling pin, but I use flour coated hands to mash the dough out to about ½ inch thickness.
Portion the dough in half with the sharpest knife you have and stack the halves, pat out to ½ inch again, slice in half, stack and repeat again only this time leaving the dough at about ¾ inch thickness.
Cut the dough into 2-3” squares with your knife, place an inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 425F degrees for about 15 minutes.