Just-baked buttermilk biscuits on a cooling rack.

A few weeks ago, I made a batch of buttermilk biscuits to serve with dinner. The biscuits emerged as they always do, sugar-crusted with a light, tender interior. Everyone gobbled them up, and while historically this has been a biscuit I love, this recent batch left me wanting: more butter, more flakiness, more salt.

In need of guidance, I turned to my baking cookbooks, and in Melissa Weller’s A Good Bake, I came across a recipe for flaky buttermilk biscuits. Her recipe called for a higher proportion of butter, less sugar, and more salt. She described the biscuits as “soft and flaky, rich with butter, and with a lot of layers you can see from the sides.”

It sounded promising. I made them, and much to my delight, the family — and I — gobbled them up. These, to me, are perfection. When broken apart from end to end, the biscuits open accordion-style, each pleat flaking into the next. The exterior is crisp and burnished and a little bit sweet thanks to a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. Heavenly on their own, these biscuits are even better with a slick more of salted butter. What isn’t?

I have made a few small changes to the recipe — I’ve added a teensy bit more salt (just a gram!), more baking powder (to encourage a little more lift), and more buttermilk, which I found essential to get the dough into a cohesive ball without overworking it. I also employ a few other tricks I’ve adopted since learning this previously favored buttermilk biscuit recipe, which, I must note, still produces an excellent biscuit, also flaky in texture, but softer and lighter, which some people might find preferable. (Though they do need more salt … I’ve updated the recipe.)

I’ve summed up all of my biscuit making knowledge here:

8 Tips for Excellent Buttermilk Biscuits

  1. As always: use a scale for best results. The difference between 9 and 10 grams of salt may seem negligible, but it makes a difference (i.e. 10 grams is better.) Moreover, if you use cups to measure the flour you’ll end up using more or less than what is called for, which will require using more or less buttermilk.
  2. To create those visible flaky layers, it’s all about the rolling and folding. In this recipe, you’ll roll the dough into a 14-inch rectangle, fold it envelope style, turn the dough 90 degrees; then repeat twice more.
  3. Cold butter, cold buttermilk. This is not unlike the process for making pie dough. Using cold ingredients, working quickly, and not overworking the dough is important. Here, I use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, but you absolutely could use a food processor: ten 1-second pulses should do it.
  4. For a no-fuss process, cut the biscuits into squares (as opposed to rounds, which require re-rolling the scraps).
  5. Chill the cut biscuits in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.
  6. Brushing the biscuits with cream, buttermilk or an egg wash encourages browning. A sprinkling of turninado (or other) sugar creates that irresistible salty-sweet dynamic.
  7. For me: baking in the upper third of the oven encourages the best browning. (Every oven is different, however, so watch closely and adjust accordingly.)
  8. If you find the bottoms of your biscuits get brown too quickly, double up on the sheetpans for baking — I do this with my challah recipe, and it works beautifully to prevent overbrowning on the bottom.

How to Make These Biscuits Ahead Of Time (Fridge/Freezer)

There are three ways you can make these biscuits ahead of time:

  1. You can freeze the baked and completely cooled biscuits in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw them overnight at room temperature. Reheat them at 350ºF for 15 minutes before serving.
  2. You can transfer the unbaked portioned biscuits (or the square of biscuit dough) to the fridge for as long as 2 days.
  3. You can freeze the unbaked portioned biscuits. Freeze the cut biscuits (without the buttermilk wash or sugar topping) on a sheet pan. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight bag or vessel and freeze for up to 3 months. Bake them directly from the freezer — apply the buttermilk wash and sugar to the frozen biscuits — then transfer to the oven. The biscuits will need a few more minutes so rely on visual cues: golden tops and bottoms.

How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits, Step by Step

Gather your ingredients: only six! Flour, butter, buttermilk, salt, sugar, baking powder.

Ingredients to make buttermilk biscuits on a countertop.

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

A bowl of flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder mixed together.

Add the cold, cubed butter.

A large bowl of dry ingredients plus slices of butter.

Cut the butter in using a pastry cutter or the back of a fork. You also could do this in the food processor.

Butter cut into small pieces into a flour mixture a large bowl.

Add the buttermilk …

Adding buttermilk to a bowl of dry ingredients and butter.

… and stir to combine.

Biscuit dough mixed in a bowl.

You may need to knead the dough briefly with your hands to get it into a cohesive ball.

Mixed biscuit dough in a bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and pat into a square.

A block of biscuit dough on a countertop.

Roll out into a 14-inch long rectangle.

Biscuit dough rolled out to 14 inches long.

Fold the top third down.

Folded biscuit dough on the counter top.

Fold the bottom third up.

Folded biscuit dough on the counter top.

Turn the block 90 degrees.

Folded biscuit dough on the counter top.

You’ll repeat this rolling-and-folding proces twice more.

Folded biscuit dough on the counter top.

After the third set of fold, pat the dough into a square.

A square of biscuit dough.

Cut the square into 9 equal pieces.

A block of biscuit dough cut into 9 squares.

Transfer the squares to a sheet pan and chill for 30 minutes.

Cut biscuits on a sheet pan.

Then brush with a little more buttermilk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar if you wish.

Cut unbaked biscuits on a sheet pan topped with buttermilk and turbinado sugar.

transfer to the oven and bake until golden, 25-30 minutes.

Just-baked biscuits.

Look at those layers…

Just baked buttermilk biscuits on a sheet pan.

… irresistible.

Flaky buttermilk biscuit on a sheet pan.
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Just baked buttermilk biscuits on a sheet pan.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits


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Description

Adapted from Melissa Weller’s A Good Bake

As always, for best results, use a scale to measure. 

I have made a few small changes to the recipe:

  • I’m using a teensy bit more salt and baking powder.
  • I’m using all-purpose flour exclusively as opposed to a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour.
  • I sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar, because I love that salty-sweet dynamic.
  • I’m using about 1/4 cup (70 grams) more buttermilk, which is an amount you might need to play around with. I’m using super thick buttermilk (Argyle Cheese Farmer, if you are local), and depending on the thickness of the buttermilk, you may need more or less. If when you are incorporating the buttermilk into the butter-flour mixture the mixture feels dry, add more buttermilk by the tablespoon until the dough comes together. 
  • To make homemade buttermilk: Fill a measuring cup with 300 grams (1.25 cups) of milk 2% or whole preferably, add 1.5 tablespoons vinegar or fresh lemon juice. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Give it a stir; then use. 

Ingredients

For the biscuits:

  • 2.75 cups  (355 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (9 g) baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons (9 g) sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons sea salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt (10 g)
  • 16 tablespoons (226 g) cold cubed butter, salted or unsalted 
  • 1.25 cups buttermilk (300 g), see notes above

For finishing:

  • 2 tablespoons (32 g) buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon (16 g) turbinado sugar, optional

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add the butter and use the back of a fork or a pastry cutter to “cut” the butter into the dry ingredients. The butter should be the size of peas in the end. You can also do this in the food processor: pulse ten times at 1-second intervals.
  2. Add the buttermilk and stir with a spatula to combine. You may need to knead the dough briefly with your hands to help the dough form a cohesive ball, but go light — you do not want to overmix here.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a 6-inch square (roughly). Dust a rolling pin with flour, and roll the square into a 14-inch long rectangle. Fold the top third down. Fold the bottom third up. Rotate the dough 90 degrees. Repeat this rolling and folding process twice more. After the final set of folds, pat the dough into a 6-8 inch square. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the dough into 9 equal portions.
  4.  Place a rack in the upper third of the oven, and heat it to 400ºF. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Transfer the portioned biscuit dough to the sheet pan and transfer it to the fridge for 30 minutes. Brush the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk and, if you wish, sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Because I find the bottoms of my biscuits to brown too quickly, I set the sheet pan on another sheet pan to bake — do this if you wish. 
  5. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the biscuits to a cooling rack immediately. 

Notes

3 Ways to Make These Biscuits Ahead of Time (Fridge/Freezer)

  1. You can freeze the baked and completely cooled biscuits in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw them overnight at room temperature. Reheat them at 350ºF for 15 minutes before serving.
  2. You can transfer the unbaked portioned biscuits (or the square of biscuit dough) to the fridge for as long as 2 days.
  3. You can freeze the unbaked portioned biscuits. Freeze the cut biscuits (without the buttermilk wash or sugar topping) on a sheet pan. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight bag or vessel and freeze for up to 3 months. Bake them directly from the freezer — apply the buttermilk wash and sugar to the frozen biscuits — then transfer to the oven. The biscuits will need a few more minutes so rely on visual cues: golden tops and bottoms.
  • Prep Time: 60 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American