Categorized | Baking, Holidays

The Curious World of Buttermilk Biscuits



Sicilian traditions are swell, and I’m usually all about keeping them alive. But there’s something about Thanksgiving that makes me want to go all-American. That’s the point, of course: it doesn’t matter where we’re from—on Thanksgiving, we’re celebrating this Great American Life.

I’ve historically been pretty lazy and unhelpful on Thanksgiving. The most I’d do is make the cranberry sauce (from scratch, at least…) and help clear dishes. Otherwise, I’d be out of the kitchen, hitting up the suburban strip malls while my parents cooked and sweated over their version of the Great American Meal. Even they don’t go too crazy with the Sicilian traditions (since, well, there aren’t any). 

I’m making up for it this year. Persimmon bread is already in the works. Four gooey persimmons are in the freezer, ready for Thursday morning baking. It’ll be good, but not very American per se. I want to make something more. Something as Apple Pie as apple pie. Only not apple pie. Something I’d never made before; something so quintessentially U.S.A. that they’re rarely made in our ethnic-infused metropolitan.

I have my heart set on biscuits. That’s right—what’s more American than biscuits?? Well, many things, I’m sure, but let’s focus on the biscuits. I spent this week trying to master the perfect biscuit: fluffy, flakey, buttery, so good that you don’t care if it means going up a dress size.

Any Southern readers out there, I have to ask your forgiveness. I realize now that biscuits are not something to conquer in an afternoon—or in a week, even. They’re hard. Really hard. For something with so few ingredients, I can’t believe how complicated they are.

I made three batches this week. Each was its own special failure. Sometimes they were too flat, sometime too salty…I still don’t know what went wrong with others. But in my hours of coookbook consultations, I’ve learned a few things. Southerners can skip this part—if you don’t, please don’t laugh at how basic this must all seem to you!* Flour with lower gluten levels makes fluffier biscuits. Cake flour has a very low gluten level and works well when combined with equal parts all-purpose flour. Don’t use all cake flour—you need the higher glutens in the all-purpose flour for structure. 

* It’s all about keeping the dough cold. Try cooling your fingers in ice water if you’re mixing in the butter by hand. Either way, do it quickly before your body heat melts the fat.

* Don’t overwork the dough!

* If you don’t have a biscuit cutter be sure to use something with a sharp edge. Push it straight down into the dough. Don’t twist the cutter. Twisting will seal the edges and keep them from rising. I used a mason jar lid but I’m not convinced it was sharp enough. My biscuits were pretty flat. Sad.

Given that I’m not an authority on this, I won’t even try offering a recipe. But Alton Brown and Homesick Texan have pretty fool-proof recipes. Good luck!
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2 Responses to “The Curious World of Buttermilk Biscuits”

  1. Monica says:

    This northerner learned something ~ thanks!

  2. Maria says:

    I'm so glad. Thanks, Monika!


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