Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

From Cook's Illustrated | January/February 2006

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Why this recipe works:

When testing buttermilk biscuit recipes, we found that flaky butter equals flaky biscuits. To get "flaky" butter, we abandoned the food processor and worked thin slices into the flour by hand. Next, we rolled and folded the dough to flatten the butter into thin sheets sandwiched between… read more

When testing buttermilk biscuit recipes, we found that flaky butter equals flaky biscuits. To get "flaky" butter, we abandoned the food processor and worked thin slices into the flour by hand. Next, we rolled and folded the dough to flatten the butter into thin sheets sandwiched between equally thin layers of flour. In the oven, the butter melted and steam filled the thin spaces left behind, creating the flaky layers that we desired for our flaky buttermilk biscuit recipe.

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Makes 12 biscuits

The dough is a bit sticky when it comes together and during the first set of turns. Set aside about 1 cup of extra flour for dusting the work surface, dough, and rolling pin to prevent sticking. Be careful not to incorporate large pockets of flour into the dough when folding it over. When cutting the biscuits, press down with firm, even pressure; do not twist the cutter. The recipe may be prepared through step 2, transferred to a zipper-lock freezer bag, and frozen for several weeks. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before proceeding.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces), plus additional flour for work surface
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cold, lightly floured and cut into 1/8-inch slices (see illustration below)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk, cold

Instructions

  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.

    2. 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 (see illustration at right). Repeat until all butter is incorporated; toss to combine. Freeze mixture (in bowl) until chilled, about 15 minutes.

    3. Spray 24-inch-square area of work surface with nonstick cooking spray; spread spray evenly across surface with kitchen towel or paper towel. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of extra flour across sprayed area; gently spread flour across work surface with palm to form 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.

    4. Pat dough into approximate 10-inch square; roll into 18 by 14-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick, dusting dough and rolling pin with flour as needed. Following illustrations below, 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 by 4-inch rectangle. Rotate dough 90 degrees, dusting work surface underneath with flour; roll and fold dough again, dusting with flour as needed.

    5. Roll dough into 10-inch square about 1/2 inch thick; flip dough and cut nine 3-inch rounds with floured biscuit cutter, dipping 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 1/2-inch-thick round; cut three more 3-inch rounds and transfer to baking sheet. Discard excess dough.

    6. Brush biscuit tops with melted butter. Bake, without opening oven door, until tops are golden brown and crisp, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe Testing

Flaky Butter = Flaky Biscuits

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.

Pebbly pieces result in regular biscuits.

Flaky sheets result in flaky biscuits.

Step-by-Step

Making the Layered Look Work for You

Getting biscuits with ultra-flaky layers is all in the handling of the dough -- a strategic process of pinching, folding, and refolding creates stratified layers of air, fat, and flour.

REFOLD: Fold dough into thirds again, rotate 90 degrees, roll out, and repeat process.

FOLD: With scraper or metal spatula, fold dough into thirds (like a business letter).

SLICE: Cut butter (coated in flour to prevent sticking) into 1/8-inch-thick slices.

PRESS: Pinch butter slices between well-floured fingertips into flat, nickel-sized pieces.

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