The Great Biscuit Debate (and the search for the perfect buttermilk biscuit)


I don’t know what food embodies the South more than the Buttermilk Biscuit.  And just like most other foods of the South, the biscuit recipe is one that is handed down through generations and every family has their own way of making them.  A marriage in the South often leads to a little (or a lot) of argument discussion over what makes a good biscuit.

My mom’s mother could throw together a batch of biscuits in a matter of minutes, cutting hers out with a can and baking the scraps into little pieces for us to snack on.  My dad’s mother would use what I’ve seen referred to as the pinch method – she would pinch off pieces of dough, roll them up and flatten them in the pan with her knuckles.  My mother, a terrific cook and baker, was surprisingly not much of a biscuit maker, preferring the yeast roll or sometimes (gasp) biscuits that came from a can.

Up until recently, I have sort of avoided the whole biscuit baking subject in my kitchen, not really having a recipe to use and just basically afraid of failure.  But I’ve decided to conquer my fears and find a biscuit recipe that I think is perfect, so I can hand it down to my children in order for the great buttermilk biscuit to live on for future generations!

But before I can fulfill that grandiose dream, I must test, test, and test again.  Because I am not one to be easily satisfied.  The fact is, I must feel like I have given all the various ingredients and techniques a fair chance, even if I get good results with one, just in case there is something out there just a little better.  I think it’s the scientist in me, or just my perfectionist tendencies.  For the record, I like my biscuits flaky, thick, and crusty on the outside, soft on the inside (I know, I don’t ask for much).

So, I bring you the first recipe in the buttermilk biscuit trials.  These were made using unbleached flour, shortening (no trans-fat), and the recipe below.  They were pretty flaky, rose pretty high, and had good flavor.  The unbleached flour makes the biscuit a little less soft than bleached flour, I think, and causes them to be more golden in color.  The next trial will be with bleached flour and shortening.  Stay tuned.

Buttermilk Biscuits #1

makes about 14 biscuits


  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup shortening, chilled
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted


  • Preheat oven to 485 degrees.
  • Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until it is in pieces the size of large peas.
  • Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Using your hands, knead the dough to incorporate all the flour. The dough should be sticky; add more buttermilk if it is too dry.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and fold over itself 3 or 4 times to make layers.
  • Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin to 3/4 inch thickness, or pat with hands.
  • Cut out rounds of dough with a 3 inch biscuit cutter (don’t twist!) and place on a baking sheet so they almost touch.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown, checking about halfway to rotate pan.
  • Brush biscuits with melted butter right after removing from the oven. Serve hot.

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