Few things in this world are as consistently satisfying as a light and pillowy, fresh-from-the-oven perfectly crusty buttermilk biscuit. That said, few things are as intimidating to the novice baker—or perhaps any baker born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, for that matter—as tackling the creation of said perfect Southern-style biscuit. Here are 5 key things to know before you start.
1) Your butter—or lard—should be really, really cold. And so should your buttermilk. As in icy cold. Most of you already know this, but it bears repeating: You want the fat you’re using to be as cold as possible when you work with it, or it will melt into the flour, altering the texture of the biscuit—and not in a good way. (The cold butter bits are what give great biscuits their irresistible flakiness.) Epicurious senior editor Lauren cuts her butter into pieces when she begins her recipe, wraps it in plastic, and keeps it in the freezer until she’s totally ready to use it.
SEE MORE: 5 Rules For Healthy Comfort Food
2) Southern-style soft wheat flour is God’s gift to biscuit makers. Southern bakers have long spread the gospel of White Lily, the silky low-protein flour made from extra finely ground soft wheat, resulting in a more ethereal texture for your biscuit. But there are other light, Southern-style flours you might try, such as Martha White.
3) A gentle hand is key. We like this description from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: “By just barely coaxing the fat and flour together, then patting the dough together as lovingly and gently as you’d towel-dry a baby, you’re keeping the flour’s gluten from toughening as you handle it.” But since the gluten really doesn’t get activated until a liquid is added, you also need to be careful when you incorporate the buttermilk. Says Lauren: “Being gentle is always a good rule of thumb for something like biscuits but it doesn’t end with the butter and flour.”
SEE MORE: 6 Foods That Speed Up Your Metabolism
4) Don’t underestimate the power of a sharp biscuit cutter. As Epicurious senior editor Kemp notes, “using something like a glass, especially if it has a thick lip, will just compress the edges and keep the biscuit from rising properly.” So invest in a legit, sharp biscuit cutter, and make sure you dip your cutter in flour every time you cut!
5) Try to get your hands on some real honest-to-goodness buttermilk. We’re talking about the real thing—the liquid that’s left after the cream has been churned into butter. (We like Kate’s.) Says Kemp of real buttermilk: “It will make a huge difference in your biscuit.” That said, the supermarket cultured skim milk product will do just fine, too.
6) Old baking powder equals flat biscuits. Again, many of you already know that baking powder loses its effectiveness over time, which means that your biscuits won’t rise as they should. (It generally loses its potency three to six months after opening.) If you don’t have any good baking powder around, buy new baking powder, or make your own!
Ready to make some biscuits? Here’s a great recipe to start with: