In the kitchen it’s always surprising (and refreshing) to discover how much I don’t know. Famed Chef Thomas Keller once quoted his passion for culinary discovery was based on the idea that “you never reach the top of the mountain”.
There’s always something to learn and somehow, the perfect biscuit has eluded me.
Biscuits are one of those foods that are a measuring stick of culinary abilities. As chefs, we have a few. For example, if a restaurant has a burger on its menu, I’m going to try it and judge you!
It was after I had been cooking professionally for almost a decade that I learned (the hard way) that I had no idea how to execute a from-scratch biscuit that was flaky, moist, delicately layered, and most of all, delicious. Obviously, there are many schools of thought when it comes to a staple recipe so I had to learn (and unlearn) a very basic rule of thumb when creating simple yet delicious food: Don’t overthink it!
The first step I discovered when making biscuits lies in the preparation of the ingredients. I’ve found that placing flour in the freezer helps create flakiness in the dough. Why? Cold flour (and a cold steel bowl) help the cold fat (in this recipe butter and buttermilk) achieve a uniform distribution in a solid state. Basically, we don’t want the fat melting into the flour. It’s one of the easiest ways to create those hockey pucks that often get passed off as biscuits.
Secondarily, I don’t use any tools when making biscuits outside of a rolling pin and my hands. One of the cardinal sins of biscuit making is overworking the dough. This rules out any type of mechanical mixers. We want the ingredients to come together, but just barely to give that flaky tenderness (it sounds like an R&B song) that we’re looking for in the finished product.
Third, the ingredients themselves. Who doesn’t want to make a show-stopping biscuit with ingredients that they know, love, and trust? I use Organic Valley Butter and Organic Valley Buttermilk to create the best buttermilk biscuits.
Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ tsp. salt
10 Tbsp. Organic Valley Cultured Butter (or 5 oz. for the exact science) cut into ½ inch squares and chilled
1 cup Organic Valley Buttermilk, chilled
Preheat oven to 425 F. This is an essential step in achieving fluffy biscuits!
Next, in a cold steel bowl mix together the dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add cold butter cubes and incorporate with fingertips. Work the butter into the flour until it is pea-sized and relatively uniform.
Add cold buttermilk until ingredients are barely moistened. Mix and turn out on a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough mixture over on itself two to three times and roll until it's about ½-inch thick.
Cut biscuits with a coffee mug, biscuit cutter, or into uniform squares.
Place on oiled/parchment sheet pan. Brush the tops with buttermilk/butter and bake for approximately 20 minutes (or until golden brown).
Fresh-from-the-oven buttermilk biscuits can warm any belly and make the gruffest of us secretly satisfied. They are a great addition to any gathering too. Drizzle with honey or jelly for a sweet treat. Top with an egg for breakfast. Eat plain or let a pat of butter melt into its flakiness and ooze on to your fingertips.
You may not get the perfect homemade biscuits but by trying over and over, you get the joy of a house smelling of fresh biscuits, time with family to create these delicious biscuits, and the adventure of figuring out what is the perfect—or not so perfect—buttermilk biscuit for you.
Luke Zahm is chef and owner of The Driftless Café farm-to-table restaurant. He also hosts “Wisconsin Foodie,” an Emmy Award-winning independent television series dedicated to discovering the stories behind the food we eat. Luke and his wife, Ruthie, have a daughter, Ava, and two sons, Benjamin and Silas.