Southern Biscuits

Southern Biscuits


The method of rubbing or “cutting” fat into flour, then stirring in moisture before kneading is referred to as the “biscuit” method and is called for in the preparation of many baked goods, most notably scones, shortbread and pie crusts.

I never really thought I could beat my grandmother’s biscuits. Since she passed away, though, I’ve come close if for no other reason than that I realized that her arthritis was actually an ingredient. Her fingers hurt so much she couldn’t really bend them when she kneaded the dough. When I started imitating her movements, my biscuits got better.

The key to a good, light, Southern-style biscuit is “soft” flour a flour that contains less protein than bread flour or even all-purpose flour. Some popular Southern flours are also milled to a finer grain consistency, which aids in fast mixing, another contributor to lightness. If you don’t have access to soft Southern flour (which you can now buy online), you can approximate it by mixing three parts all-purpose flour with one part cake flour.

Southern Biscuits
Yields 12
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Ingredients
  1. 12 ounces all-purpose flour, plus an additional 1/2 cup for dusting
  2. 4 teaspoons baking powder
  3. 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  5. 1 ounce unsalted butter, chilled*
  6. 2 ounces shortening, chilled
  7. 1 cup low-fat buttermilk, chilled
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Whisk together all the dry, powdery stuff (except the flour for dusting, of course) in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Using your fingertips, rub the butter and shortening into the dry goods until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  4. Make a well in the middle of this mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Stir with a large spoon until the dough just comes together. Then knead in the bowl until all the flour has been taken up.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then start folding the dough over on itself, gently kneading for 30 seconds, or until the dough is soft and smooth.
  6. Press the dough into a 1-inch-thick round. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut out biscuits, being sure to push the cutter all the way through the dough to the work surface before twisting to "punch" out the biscuit. Make your cuts as close together as possible to limit waste.
  7. Place the biscuits on a half sheet pan (preferably aluminum, which is highly conductive) so that they just barely touch. Reroll scraps and punch out as many biscuits as possible.
  8. Use your thumb to create a shallow dimple in the top center of each biscuit**, and bake until the biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the biscuits out into a kitchen towel-lined basket and let cool for several minutes before buttering and devouring.
Notes
  1. *If you're "hot handed" you definitely want to chill the fats in the freezer before attempting to cut them in.
  2. **This helps to ensure flat tops on the finished biscuit.
ALTON BROWN https://altonbrown.com/

47 Comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony

    I love this recipe, but I’ve had to reduce the buttermilk by about one or two ounces. I don’t know if it’s because I make it while the kitchen is hot, but the dough always sticks to my hands and countertop now matter how much I flour them, no less the bowl. I use soft wheat flour instead of AP so that might be it, but I’m not too sure. Either way, once I manage to cut them out, they’re delicious.

  2. 2
    Don Rollins

    The way I altered this recipe with terrific results is I only use cake flour, I substitute 2 oz of margarine for the shortening, I always chill the dry goods in the freezer for 10 minutes before rubbing in the fats (with my arthritis – its a gentle rub), I butter the heck out of my 1/2 sheet baking pan, I preheat to 450 F, I bake for 11 minutes then pull the biscuits out, switch to broil, lather the tops with melted butter then back under the broiler for 2 to 2 and a half minutes.
    They don’t last long.

  3. 3
    Isabelle

    This is the go-to biscuit recipe in our house. The only time we stray from it is to occasionally substitute coconut oil for the shortening. If you do that, be sure to split one open while still they’re still steamy inside…

  4. 4
    Jan Dannenmann

    Wasn’t there an episode where you had a bake off / biscuits making against your mother or grandmother? I’d love to see that again. Old school verse science. Loved it.

    • 6
      james

      There are quite a few gluten free recipes online using 1 to 1 gluten free flour. I believe you can use the same technique. Hope that helps.

      • 7
        Matti

        I think she wants to know a recommend flour replacement for *this* recipe, not a “go find another recipe” advice. Given that this is a low protein flour blend, you’d want to chose your gluten free blend to be lower in protein-containing flours (brown rice, chickpea, almond). You’ll probably need to build something based on white rice flour and corn starch, and maybe even have to blend the flour from scratch, although I think Cup4Cup brand is low protein, particularly if you can find their “cake” flour. I think Manini’s (Pacific Northwest only) has a low-protein blend as well.

  5. 8
    james

    I watched my grandmother make biscuits for years when I was growing up. This is a calculated carbon copy of what she used to do. I love this recipe and it takes me back to a Tennysonian spot in time. The only difference is she would take a little bit of grease (animal fat) in her hand and rub it into her flour mixture until she had a little biscuit ball. Thanks Alton for recapturing this true recipe as, like most old fashioned recipes, her’s were scribbles on a paper of ingredients and the technique was hard-learned.

  6. 9
    Todd Orr

    I have tried these twice now, and while I am no expert, they keep coming out like hockey pucks. I was under the impression these would make a fluffy, flaky biscuit. The first time i made them I used older ingredients and didn’t weigh the flour. The next time I weighed the flour and purchased all new ingredients; same results. Any ideas?

    • 10
      Bkeyes

      The folding of the dough is paramount. I folded it over 6 times, touching the dough as little as possible. Maybe your fat is melting on the counter instead of in the oven? Hot hands?

  7. 11
    Brian

    I still get antsy when I think of using shortening… I just don’t want the Trans Fats. But I’ve had good luck using homemade lard (and I’ve been using the method you did a video on in the Iron Chef kitchen I saw on Food Network.com). As for the flour, I have been using all cake flour… and I thought they came out well. Does the mixture of AP make that much of a difference?

  8. 12
    Lauren

    These sound delicious fluffy! I’d love to see your “healthier” biscuit recipe again, the one with whole wheat pastry flour. It’s not available any more on the Food Network website even though I remember watching the video clip of you making them in your kitchen! I’d love it if you could post the healthier recipe 😀

  9. 13
    Zenith57

    Well, I wish to make a corn biscuit, using masa, not corn meal, not wheat/corn mix, can’t find a recipe; searching for buttermilk biscuit recipe, I see the one offered on this site, which calls for 12 OZ. of flour, (in my world, about 3 cups, wheat flour usually weighs 4-4.25 oz/cup.)

    Your recipe food network offers is identical, except calls for 2 cups of flour…which is it?

    I believe in measuring flours by weight, rather than volume.

    AB is my “go to” when researching culinary experiments.

    Any comments/advice is appreciated!

  10. 14
    RT3

    My wife and I are embarking on opening our own little restaurant. I am a NC native. Love biscuits and gravy, chicken n waffles, shrimp and grits, etc. So I am bringing some home cooked eats to our business. I need a dynamite easy, quick biscuit recipe. I know I will never come close to my late Mother or Grandmothers recipes, but this has all the makings of what they used to bake. I have tried and tried and tried, my biscuits aren’t rising. I have tried everything, even softening the hands. I just cannot seem to make anything but pucks and bricks. I have some taste testors (brave friends) and they are waiting. Any suggestions of what I can do that maybe I am missing? I have used buttermilk, regular milk, I need a recipe without buttermilk for a specific meal we will be serving. I cannot put it on the menu, due to my troubles with the biscuits. HELP AB, you got a retired Veteran here who is looking to bring joy to folks hearts! Thank you for all the great tips and shows over the years. Huge Fan of Good Eats! Do you offer that entire series on DVD or Download anywhere? Thanks.

    • 15
      Bobbi Gelber

      RT3 — Try not mixing so much! Mom told me not to mix so much, and they started getting much better! Good luck with everything!

    • 16
      H3thrr

      How old is your leavening? Old soda won’t work nearly as well as new. If you don’t use soda and baking powder frequently, buy the smallest size container (based on your usage) and if your soda comes in a cardboard box, store the box in a sealed plastic bag or transfer to a canning jar (label it, of course).

    • 18
      D

      You can convert to cups (ie. 1/4 cup is 2 oz) but the reason he uses ounces is because it gives you an exact amount which is beneficial with baking. A quarter cup of flower could be a different amount of ounces every time you measure due to how the flour is compacted or loose. measuring by weight will give you a more consistent product.

    • 20
      Eddie

      I believe it’s referring to what you do after you push the biscuit cutter down on the dough. You want to push straight down before twisting. If you look at the video when he makes biscuits with his grandmother you can see him explain it

  11. 21
    Lon

    God bless Ma Mae, and God bless you and your family , A.B. This is wonderful info. I am going to make this next Sunday morning. YOU BETTER BE RIGHT !!!! just kidding .I We love you .ps…… bring back GOOD EATS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. 24
    Brian B.

    Ah, I can’t edit my previous. After reading, I suggested way too many changes to the recipe, my sincere apologies.,shouldn’t have done that. I’ve had success with them, but that’s not the recipe above – which is excellent on its own.

  13. 25
    Brian B.

    These are phenomenal, easy and inexpensive. Other thoughts: Flour: White Lily. It matters way more than I thought. The AP flour with a metal logo will make them tough, guaranteed. Fats: I use half butter, half lard; I freeze small bits before cutting in with a pastry cutter. Still trying to use fingers… Buttermilk: full fat please! Combining: I stir with a fork until it *just* starts to come together, then dump on floured surface. It looks like it won’t stay together, it will. Kneading: to keep them tender I cut the dough in half with a pizza cutter before folding over. I believe this slows gluten formation by stopping stretching? Your mileage may vary, I’ve gotten better with practice and what’s wrong with more biscuits? Look for the video online in multiple locations, just search Alton Brown Biscuits.

  14. 26
    April

    Dear Mr. Brown, these look delightful!!! Are you allowed to name a few flours that you would call “southern”? I do live in the south, but didn’t realize there’s such a thing as “southern” flour. Thank you.

  15. 29
    Eddie

    I’m confused. In the description it says to use “southern flour”, but if you don’t have that to use 3 parts AP to 1 part Cake flour. However, the recipe calls for all AP flour. Shouldn’t it be 9 oz AP and 3 oz Cake flour instead of 12 AP?

  16. 31
    Tim

    I use to make pucks til I watched this episode long ago. Now, my biscuits are quite yummy. I usually skip the shortening and use all butter though. Do not over mix is the key here! Alton rocks and he rides!!

  17. 32
    Janet M.

    One of my all time favorite Good Eats episodes!! I also use a quote from your ‘rant’ when Ma Mae died as a signature line – “In the end, cooking isn’t about understanding it’s about connecting. Food is the best way to keep those we must lose.”

  18. 33
    Janeen

    I remember well your episode with your grandmother making biscuts, it is one of my favorites. You will never be able to reproduce her biscuts because you can’t reproduce her LOVE; Although making them with your daughter may just channel what you need

  19. 37
    Jennifer

    Every time you tell this story it tickles my heart. How wonderful that you have such good memories of her and finally realized what it took her to make you your favorite biscuits.

  20. 38
    J Shum

    Is there any chance you can post a picture of this proper kneeding action. I suck at that, which is probably partially why my bread sucks too

  21. 40
    Joseph Senter

    I’m curious why you cook the biscuits at 400 degrees F. Almost every biscuit recipe I’ve seen recommends 450 or higher. I really respect your opinion, so I want to hear why. I promise I am not questioning your judgement, I just want to understand the reason.

  22. 41
    Teresa

    Any chance you could drop by and walk me through this recipe? All the biscuits I’ve made in the past have been hockey pucks. They won’t raise. I’ve tried being very gentle with the dough with no better results. Obviously I’m doing something wrong.

  23. 43
    Melissa

    I keep my bacon fat when I bake bacon. My mother-in-law used this for her biscuits – chilled, would this work for either the shortening or the butter?

  24. 46
    Carol

    My grandmother made “cathead” biscuits. She melted butter in a cast iron skillet and added the biscuits. I make bricks or crumbles, not biscuits. I will be trying this for supper tomorrow. Thank you for sharing.

  25. 47
    Sharon Connor

    Tonight at supper, I had biscuits and was serving fresh corn. I took a bite of corn, then biscuit. I immediately was back in my Grannys kitchen. She used to cut corn off the cob and cook it in a watery broth. Then it was poured over an opened biscuit. Best stuff ever! A biscuit memory.

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