Genius Recipes

The Genius Secrets to Carla Hall’s Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

With the superstar chef's coaching, you're about to become a biscuit pro.

June 10, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


Anyone can make a great biscuit—even if you didn’t grow up patting out dough, even if you don’t possess baker’s intuition or cold hands or a proper cutter. Carla Hall will make sure of it.

Carla—who we know and love from Top Chef and The Chew, her award-winning cookbooks, and her inspirational hula-hooping on Instagram—started late herself. She may have grown up in Nashville loving the crispy-bottomed biscuits she’d eat on visits to her grandmother’s house, but didn’t bake them at her side.

Extra-crispy edges, please. Photo by Kristen Miglore

In 1990, Carla started a lunch delivery service "as a fluke," she says, and wanted to offer biscuits with smoked turkey—but she had to teach herself how to make them first. "It was a process," Carla told me. Having just lived in London, she started with a scone recipe from the Guardian as a base, then added in the tips she’d picked up from her grandmother. "I literally took something from England and this Southern recipe and mushed them together for my perfect recipe," she said.

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Top Comment:
“I remember seeing Carla on Top Chef I love her! These look like they are made with love. Can’t wait to try them. I really enjoy the demos from your kitchen, it helps seeing actually how to make these recipes. The deep dish pizza and seeded flat bread have been a big success, so time to try something new!”
— Susan D.
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She’s been perfecting them since, working in tricks from her own happy discoveries (like the very best way to get still-tender biscuits out of the scraps) and conversations with other biscuit obsessives (like Nathalie Dupree, who enriches her buttermilk by blending in lard—Carla goes for sour cream). And when she launched her restaurant Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen in Brooklyn in 2016, because she was teaching biscuit novices (and because the last biscuits needed to be just as good as the first), she had to make sure her recipe was both beginner-friendly and consistent. We are all the beneficiaries.

The secrets to her fluffy, flaky, completely unintimidating biscuits are tucked into this recipe from Carla Hall’s Soul Food, and brought to life in the video above, in which Carla walks me through the best biscuits I’ve ever made (so that you can do it, too).

There is more genius contained in this recipe and in Carla’s coaching than I can do justice to here, but below I’ll highlight what I found to be the most surprising, helpful, and memorable parts of her technique:

Rub a couple tablespoons of shortening (or neutral oil, in a pinch) into the dry ingredients before bringing out the butter. This makes for extra-crispy edges. But it also coats the flour's proteins, preventing them from linking up and forming extra gluten—aka keeps the biscuits tender and harder to overwork. (Carla is a big Shirley Corriher baking science fan, too.)

Grate in a frozen stick of butter—either by hand with a box grater or in a food processor—to make consistent pockets of butter to puff up and make flaky layers, without needing to know exactly how the dough should feel. Double genius: Dunk the stick of butter in the flour at the beginning (and any time it starts to get slippery).

Carla loves thick, rich, whole-milk buttermilk, but if you can only find low-fat (or none at all), make a substitute with enough fat to get the job done: whole milk (or low-fat buttermilk) plus sour cream (or yogurt), in roughly equal proportions. It should be a little thicker than heavy cream. That vinegar-plus-milk hack won’t cut it here.

Make your batter wetter than you think it should be. Bat it around in a thin coat of flour, like a kitten playing with a ball of yarn, to keep it from sticking. Then pat in a few loose turns like you’d fold a letter, a much more relaxed version of puff pastry.

A hollowed-out can is a better makeshift biscuit cutter than a drinking glass because it lets the air escape out the top (and the biscuits, not stuck in a vacuum, gently slide out the bottom).

After cutting the biscuits, flip them over on the sheet pan. That cutter-pinched edge being on top yields an extra 1/8 to 1/4 inch of height, since the rest of the biscuits below the pinch can rise unimpeded.

Bake your biscuits spaced-out on a buttered sheet pan (not parchment) for extra-crispy bottoms and crunchy edges all around.

But as wonderful as fluffy-perfect first-timer biscuits are all on their own, as Carla notes, "It’s all about how you eat them." For her: Melted butter, two kinds of jam, save the crispy bottom for last. You?

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

71 Comments

Terry B. July 12, 2020
I was going to make these, then got super confused when I saw frozen butter that I grate. I was positive! Positive that you had cut yours into little squares and used 2 knives instead of using of pastry blender. I was sure that was what Carla had said she had always done, something like she didn't always have a pastry blender. I started to watch the video and you're using a frozen stick of butter. Are there 2 of these videos? I am so confused. No butter in my freezer. Needless to say I made another recipe for biscuit, was so confused in my head I kept grabbing wrong ingredients. Salt for sugar, soda for powder....threw em out, and came here because I need clarification, PLEASE! My gosh, you'd think I have never ever baked before, instead of over 40 something years....sigh
 
JP July 12, 2020
It’s called covid brain.
 
Terry B. July 12, 2020
JP, I can see the other video in my head! I swear! Ha, covid brain....yes!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Terry, I think you might be thinking of this scone video! https://food52.com/recipes/82986-banana-bread-scones-recipe
 
Terry B. July 12, 2020
It is what it is!! Yes! I didn't remember that one! I'm not dreamin, there's 2 videos, just different videos, very different videos, both featuring someone with a very calming voice! Thank you, Kristen!
 
Debra B. July 12, 2020
These were the best biscuits I’ve ever made! The video is excellent. I used low fat buttermilk and next time I will try whole milk buttermilk or the milk/sour cream option.
I am going to try the food processor next time, but there is great satisfaction from making them by hand. If making these for breakfast, I am trying to think of a way to cut down the last minute prep.. Do you think I could complete the recipe through grating the butter and then put the bowl into the freezer over night, adding the buttermilk in the morning?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Yes, that sounds like it would work great!
 
Heatherjpool June 28, 2020
I feel compelled to write a review which is something I never do. I've tried so many biscuit recipes but always ended up disappointed. This recipe along with the video led me to make the best biscuits I have EVER tasted. I could not believe how light and soft they were. I should not have been surprised since Carla was always a favorite of mine on top chef and I'll never forget the episode where she cooked chicken pot pie for Jimmy Fallon and the entire table raved. THANK YOU for sharing this recipe. I love Food52 and time and time again discover the best recipes on this site.
 
Billie O. June 26, 2020
Biscuits have always been my White Whale. I tried this recipe and it was phenomenal. Now if I can just master Mac and Cheese.
 
Francesca B. June 25, 2020
I made these this morning, and they were so light and delicious! My supermarket didn’t have buttermilk, so I subbed half whole milk and half sour cream, whisked together. Definitely a keeper. Thanks!
 
Bgeorgia June 21, 2020
Add a print button on your recipes
 
rox L. June 22, 2020
Bgeorgia- Once you click view recipe there is a print recipe below the video. Good luck!
 
Melissa C. June 21, 2020
I have tried every possible biscuit recipe I could possible try and FINALLY have found THE ONE perfect biscuit recipe. THANK YOU both for sharing not just the recipe but the video (which was vital). These were perfect and I will use this process every time.
LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! P.S - I didn't have any shortening so I use to tablespoons of canola oil and it worked like a charm! :)
 
skkohn June 16, 2020
What a delight! Haven't made them yet, but I surely do want to . . . and even if I don't, this was so much fun to watch, that I'll certainly watch it again. Thanks for brightening up the day!
 
JP June 16, 2020
Where did I go wrong? Mine were not light and fluffy. They did have layers. They felt and tasted oily. I did sub milk/sour cream for the buttermilk (whole milk/full fat sour cream). Other than that, I (thought) I followed the recipe exactly.
 
HalfPint June 16, 2020
How hot was the oven temp? In my experience, light and fluffy biscuits (or bread) need a really hot oven (at least 400F) for a good rise. The oily texture and taste also makes me think that the oven wasn't hot enough.
 
JP June 16, 2020
I thought I followed exactly but will try again with an eye on the temperature.
 
Mendy Y. June 15, 2020
If cooking for a crowd, what do we think about making these days ahead, freezing, baking day of event and serving room temp? Trying to find great single serve recipes to share with a larger group for graduation during Covid cooking times. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Sounds great! But I would bake the biscuits first, then freeze, based on Carla's advice at the end of the recipe: To make ahead: You can let the biscuits cool completely, then freeze them for up to 2 months. To serve, thaw them and then bake in a 350°F oven until toasted and warm.
 
Mendy Y. June 15, 2020
Thank you!
 
Mica H. June 15, 2020
My family said hands down "these are the BEST biscuits we have ever tasted and we WANT MORE!" Thank you for sharing this recipe with us Carla! I can't wait to add flavoring to them ~ savory and sweet!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Yay!
 
Phyllis June 14, 2020
Thank you so much for this video! It was so helpful to actually see the techniques. In the past, my biscuits were never that good--too dry, dough crumbly, the texture wasn't flaky, etc. I watched the video twice and then went for it. The dough was a dream to work with, it came together easily and cut out perfectly. And the results are deliciously wonderful. Flaky (but not fragile), tender, and a crispy bottom--and pretty--just like in the video. I feel like an accomplished biscuit maker now and will no longer be apprehensive about making biscuits.
Your hands will be covered with flour so if you want to avoid floury hand prints all over your kitchen, I recommend having all the ingredients ready and in place. Also don't use a dark colored pan; the bottom of the biscuits will be too dark and slightly burned.
 
Susan D. June 14, 2020
I have this pan it’s a double pan? It allows air flow between layers. I use it for my chocolate chip cookies and they always come out perfect, so I used it for the biscuits and it worked great! It’s worth owning and I don’t think it was that expensive.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Thank you, Phyllis—so glad the video was helpful.
 
shiraz.moola June 14, 2020
just wondering what the final step of putting the biscuits back into the fridge before baking does for them? cheers
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Thanks for asking—the cold butter layers will steam and puff up in the oven to make flaky layers, while warmer butter will just melt into the dough.
 
Gail K. June 11, 2020
Fabulous tutorial - clear directions, love the layering technique. Going to try as soon as I can get to the store for some buttermilk. Great invite to have Carla Hall into your kitchen. Thanks.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Thank you, Gail! Carla also has some great buttermilk substitutions, which I included in the headnote above the recipe: If you can't find thick, rich whole-milk buttermilk, you can mix regular milk (or low-fat buttermilk) with whole-milk sour cream or yogurt in roughly equal proportions. It should be a little thicker than heavy cream. Whole-milk kefir is also a great substitute. (The milk-plus-vinegar hack for replacing buttermilk won't work here—you need the fat for fluffy, flaky, perfect biscuits.)
 
rox L. June 11, 2020
Nice collaboration Carla and Kristen. I enjoyed the video and can't wait to make your biscuits Carla and I really miss your face on The Chew! And the show.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Thanks, Rox—so glad you liked the video.
 
Francesca B. June 11, 2020
That was great! Kristen, I always love your videos, and now I can’t wait to try Carla’s biscuit recipe.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Thank you, Francesca! Hope you love them.
 
Sherri C. June 11, 2020
What a beautiful story Carla shared with her grandmother, growing up, childhood memories are the best! Carlas's such an easy person to talk to & understand. Thanks Sarah for asking Carla to share this wonderful recipe. I will try it one day -Soon i hope
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 15, 2020
Thank you, Sherri—she really is wonderful to talk to and such a great teacher.
 
June R. June 11, 2020
I successfully made these this morning. I measured 300 grams of all purpose flour for 2.5 cups in accordance KingArthur's 120 grams per cup of flour. I found that to be a little light for the 1.5 cups of liquid called out. I will try 330 grams next time.

I only had 1 cup of buttermilk and made up the rest with whole milk and sour cream. Thanks for the substitution suggestion.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 11, 2020
June, thanks so much for your note—you reminded me to add another tip tot he recipe from Carla about how she likes to measure the flour, as well as the gram measurement I used.
 
Jody June 11, 2020
I do square biscuits too, and make sure to cut off 1/4" on each side first, so that the folds are cut through allowing the biscuits to rise. They are a special treat to make with sausage gravy when my kids visit.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 11, 2020
Thanks, Jody!
 
Sharon T. June 11, 2020
My mother was a famous biscuit maker, whose biscuits were featured in the chicken dinner restaurant, the Red Lantern, she and my father owned during part of the Great Depression in Salem Oregon. All the state big-wigs ate there. When Fisher came up with the idea of biscuit mix, they came and asked her to try it, and said if she would advertise that she used it, they would keep her supplied at no cost. She tried it, no one in the family liked the biscuits, and she turned them down! Baking Powder Biscuits are a family tradition, and everyone in the family, down to my grandchildren, were taught to make them. One of my mother's secrets was that she made square biscuits. You just fold the dough over gently a few times to make the flaky layers, pat it into a rough square and cut it with a sharp knife in a few cuts, usually into 16 biscuits. You get tall, flaky tender layers. She told me she didn't understand why people made round biscuits, since it meant re-rolling dough, and getting tougher and tougher biscuits. When I was about 8 or 9, I had a sleep-over at a friend's house, and her mother made biscuits -- round biscuits! I didn't think they were very good, and went home to tell my mother that Joyce's mother made these strange round tough biscuits! When she told me we were the odd-balls, and that no one else made square biscuits, I was just amazed that anyone would choose to do something so silly! To this day, 75 years later, square biscuits are a family tradition and no one in the family would think of making a round "bikkie," as we fondly call them.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 11, 2020
Thank you for sharing this story, Sharon. I love the idea of a square biscuit.