Citizens, tomorrow is the glorious holiday of Thanksgiving, and what would that holiday be without flaky, delicious buttermilk biscuits?
MISERABLE, that’s what it would be!
So, in the interest of guaranteeing my beloved Citizens a non-miserable holiday, I now part with my super-secret recipe for creating the finest buttermilk biscuits you’ll ever have! I even enrich the deal further by sharing my top 8 ultra-secrets to a magnificent biscuit experience!
So – without further ado:
First – use lard. If you can’t or won’t use, use shortening. Lard is better. MUCH better. If possible, try and find leaf lard, which makes the biscuits even flakier, but that is a scarce and rare commodity usually snatched up by professional bakers who know its awesome powers. Still, try and get some.
Second – use cultured butter. It not only adds extra flavor, but the fact that it is cultured helps the biscuits remain tender. I will show you how to make some if you can’t get it at your local Farmers Market or quality grocer of choice.
Third – use White Lily brand flour. Don’t substitute. Don’t even THINK of it. Trust me, and every Southern baker who ever lived – this is the only flour you want to use, as it guarantees a tender final product.
Fourth – don’t over-handle the dough. A light mixing is ABSOLUTELY critical! Use only your fingertips, preferably after they’ve sat in iced water for a few seconds.
Fifth – grate the fat you are using by freezing it first and then using a box grater. This helps the fat incorporate the right way to provide flaky layers of deliciousness.
Sixth – use cream of tartar for proper lift on your biscuits.
Seventh – let the biscuits touch each other on the pan before you put them in the oven. This also helps with lift.
Eighth, contributed by reader Dana! A frozen pastry cutter and bowl, with chilled ingredients (except the buttermilk which needs to be room temperature or very slightly warmed to activate the leavening), will preserve the fat pieces in the flour mixture and enhance the flakiness of the finished product. Finger mixing tends to melt the fat into the flour, losing some of the flake.
Happy Thanksgiving, my Citizens! 🙂
Battle on – The Generlaissimo
1¼ lb. White Lily all-purpose flour (do not substitute any other brand!)
1 ½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt
¼ lb. Lard (preferred) or shortening, freeze the fat first, then grate fine using a box cheese grater. You’ll get a much better dough incorporation.
2 cups local or homemade buttermilk
soft cultured butter made from:
1 quart high-quality heavy cream, preferably local
1 tbsp. high-quality buttermilk, preferably local
Make the cultured butter 2-3 days beforehand:
Pour heavy cream into a glass jar. Pour the buttermilk over the top, and then over the jar with a layer of plastic wrap and place it somewhere cool and dark.
Let the cream sit at room temperature for two days, and then taste it. It should have thickened and soured. If you’re happy with the flavor, proceed to the next step. If not, let it sit for one more day.
When you like the way the cream tastes, turn it into butter: Transfer it to a bowl. Chill the bowl just slightly in the refrigerator. Sprinkle just a little bit of salt over the cream. (This isn’t for flavor, but to help the churning process. You can add more salt later if desired.)
Then, using a whisk or a stand mixer set to medium-high, beat the cream until it separates into butter and buttermilk. If the going is slow, don’t give up!
Over the course of 5-10 minutes, the cream should transform into whipped cream and then, with a slosh of liquid, become a cluster of yellow butter curds in a bath of thin, acidic buttermilk. Briefly chill the bowl again, and pour off the buttermilk.
Then work the butter into a rough ball with a wooden spoon and press it hard, continuing to pour off—and reserve the streams of buttermilk that trickle out. Once the butter stops leaking buttermilk, it’s ready to eat.
Some people wash the butter at this point, which removes lingering buttermilk and extends the butter’s shelf life. But that buttermilk adds flavor, and honestly, you won’t keep this butter around for long enough to worry about shelf life.
Wrap the butter tightly with plastic wrap. Store it in the refrigerator for one week or freeze it for several months.
The day you make the biscuits:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift the chilled dry ingredients together in a large frozen-cold mixing bowl. Cut the grated lard or shortening into the flour mixture with a frozen pastry cutter, (except the buttermilk which needs to be room temperature or very slightly warmed to activate the leavening).
The lumps will be very small, but still visible. As soon as you see the texture of the flour become coarse, stop. Do NOT overwork the dough – you’ll get a hockey-puck otherwise!
Pour the buttermilk into the dry mixture all at once and combine. Incorporate the buttermilk as quickly and as gently as possible using a folding motion. Adjust the consistency if needed. The dough should be sticky, but manageable.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and work lightly (with the hands, use a folding and patting out motion) until the texture begins to smooth out.
Pat the dough out with your hands into a large rectangle (about the size of a baking sheet).
Spread 2/3 of the dough with soft cultured butter. Fold the unbuttered side onto the middle 1/3 of the buttered side, then fold the other outer 1/3 buttered side onto the top of the unbuttered dough. Turn dough ¼ turn and repeat, buttering 2/3 dough and folding. Repeat once more.
Pat out dough to ½-inch thickness. May finish lightly with a few strokes of a rolling pin. Use a 3-inch cutter (keep dipping in flour to keep from sticking to the dough) to punch out biscuits.
Place 6 by 4, with the biscuits just touching (this gives a higher lift to the biscuits) on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for approximately 14 minutes.
Turn once halfway through the baking at 7 minutes. Tops should be a light golden brown when finished. Brush tops with butter. Let cool briefly and serve.