The Perfect Biscuit

 Photo Cred: Jon Carrillo @artocarrillo

Photo Cred: Jon Carrillo @artocarrillo

by: Bryan Beacham

There are few things in life that I hold more dear than the feeling I get biting into a steaming buttermilk biscuit. Fresh from the oven, dripping with the sweet melted butter that contributed to its flaky lighter than air consistency all housed in a crispy golden shell which will become your initial contact point, and most likely love at first bite. This is if the biscuit is made well, of course. I find that a bad biscuit evokes the opposite response. The same sort of response a child has to a well rounded scoop of ice cream falling from a cone onto the dirty cement beneath their feet.

With most biscuits containing around 5 ingredients you cannot call them complex in their foundation. Instead their complexity is found in the emotional side of making a biscuit. They require love, and a delicate touch that hurried hands cannot provide.  One thing I can assure you is that you never want to make biscuits when you're angry, because that's not what it's about. You will feel the disdain in your creation and so will whoever you feed them too. I suppose there might by days where you want to express your lament towards someone with this sort of subtlety but I hope those days are the exception and you find greater reward in fattening bellies and making smiles.

When done properly a biscuit becomes the perfect vehicle for so many types of food. I can attest to this because it's long been a running joke in my family that I turn everything into a sandwich. If given a plate with a biscuit and anything else, "anything else" will undoubtedly end up mashed between the halved biscuit. With that said, a good basic recipe can open so many doors for creating other dishes. I use this recipe for desserts, savory items, as a side, or occasionally as a late night snack when I'm just really craving something fresh from the oven.

 I've made a point of not sharing this recipe with others because everyone loses their mind when they have them. The reality is that it's so basic I feel guilty not sharing. Please keep in mind we all have our preferences when it comes to ingredients but one point I can't make enough is that the quality of your ingredients will make a huge difference in the final product. Especially with a recipe like this that is simply: flour, butter, buttermilk, and honey, you'll want to make sure that you use really great full flavored, and natural products.

For flour I like to use White Lily Self Rising Flour, which I know will spark a lively debate among baking aficionados. Use what you like! I have always had really great results with this product and will not waiver on this so please don't try.

You will see some recipes that call for shortening. I tend to avoid these simply because I don't find it to be as natural as recipes that use only butter. When choosing a butter I like to go for the richer European Style Cream Butters that contain only cream. If you look on the ingredients of less expensive butters you'll find a short list of ingredients you wouldn't expect to see like flavoring agents and artificial coloring. Not as appealing right? Butter is a key component in making a good biscuit because it is the steam from the butter as it melts in the oven that provides a lot of the lift that gives the biscuit it's signature flakiness. You MUST keep your butter very well chilled to achieve this effect otherwise you will end up with a very flat and dense product. I like to cut into 1/4" cubes and place in the freezer until it gets to the point where it just before freezing.

Many biscuit recipes also call for a touch of sugar which I will use, but prefer to use honey. This gives the biscuit a delicate sweetness and helps with crisping up the exterior of the biscuit. Please do not hesitate to use sugar if that is all you have on hand, I do it all the time, but like I said I like to keep it as natural as possible and find more comfort in using honey.

When choosing buttermilk try to find a more naturally produced product. I recommend this with all dairy products. You simply get better flavor from these. The one dilemma you may run into is, using Lowfat versus Whole Buttermilk. I have used both and both have produced a fine product. My personal preference is Whole buttermilk simply because I find that it makes a much richer biscuit. As with your butter you will want to make sure your buttermilk is very well chilled. This helps maintain the chill on your butter when you mix your biscuits and will assure that your final product comes out perfectly.

I hope you find this post helpful, and look forward to seeing you make this a part of your rotation of recipes. Have fun with it and experiment with add ins! Cut cheese into it while you're mixing or maybe some fresh herbs? This really is the perfect base for whatever your mind can dream up. Enjoy!

1 Cup Self-Rising Flour*
6 T Butter, Cut into 1/4" Cubes and Chilled
2 Tablespoons Honey
1/3 Cup of Whole Buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees

1. In a large mixing bowl start with your Self-Rising Flour and add your chilled butter piecesCut into flour using a fork or a pastry blender until you have pieces of butter blended with the flour that are approximately pea sized.
2. In a separate container combine honey and buttermilk and whisk rapidly until honey is mostly dissolved working quickly to keep mixture chilled

3. Form a well in the center of your butter/flour mixture and pour all of your buttermilk into the center
4. Using a gentle folding motion work from the center of the well with your hands gently pulling flour from the edges of the well into the buttermilk gradually until all the flour is incorporated and you have a ball of dough. This will get messy and I recommend doing it with one hand to avoid leaving paw prints all over the kitchen.
5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a 1-inch thick rectangle.
6. Cut dough into 6 even piece using a chef's knife or pastry cutter/bench scraper. (I will often use a scale to ensure accuracy in size to promote even cooking.)
7. Place biscuits on aluminum sheet pan and back at 425 for 15 minutes until golden brown. (If your biscuits have lost their chill prior to going into the oven I recommend putting them in the freezer for 15-30 minutes before baking)


Additional notes: Biscuit dough can be made ahead of time and frozen. Simply shape biscuits and place on a tray in the freezer until completely frozen. Once fully frozen they can be bagged and reserved for a few months until ready for use. When ready to bake place on a sheet pan and go directly to the freezer from the oven at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.

*If you do not have Self Rising Flour you can make it by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of all purpose flour.