Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

March 30, 2017

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: I learned this unconventional method from Tom Purtill, a young baker at one of my favorite diners in Oakland. The first time I tasted one of his biscuits, I begged him to come out of the kitchen and talk me through his process. And I’m so glad that I did, because every word he said was completely at odds with everything I knew about making biscuits. I’d always thought the key was to work the dough as little as possible, but he told me how he completely incorporated half of the butter into the dough to make it tender, and then rolled and folded the finished dough a few times to create flaky layers. It was so counter- intuitive, in fact, that if the moistest, flakiest biscuit I’d ever seen weren’t sitting right in front of me, I wouldn’t have believed him.
But I did, and went straight home to try it out. I treated every word he’d said like gospel, and it worked! The key, just as he said, is to keep everything ice-cold so that the butter doesn’t melt and combine with the flour to form gluten, which will make the biscuits tough. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a food processor. Or mix everything by hand using a metal pastry cutter—it’ll just take a little while longer. Reprinted with permission from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat (Simon and Schuster, 2017).
Samin Nosrat

Makes: 16 biscuits

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups (18 1⁄2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled, plus 1⁄4 cup more for brushing biscuits
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Freeze the cubed butter and the buttermilk for 15 minutes. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment and mix at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add in half of the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue mixing at low speed until the mixture looks sandy and no distinct pieces of butter are visible, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the rest of the butter and continue mixing until the butter pieces are the size of large peas, about 4 minutes.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a large, wide bowl and very briefly use your fingers to flatten the largest butter pieces: get some flour on your hands and run your thumb from the tip of your pinky to the tip of your index finger along your fingertips like you’re making the “Cha-ching! Cash money!” motion.
  6. Create a well in the center of the mixture. Pour the buttermilk and 1 cup cream into the well. Mix with a rubber spatula with broad, circular strokes until the dough comes roughly together. The dough may still appear shaggy, which is fine.
  7. Lightly flour the counter and turn the dough out of the bowl. Gently pat the dough out into a 3⁄4-inch-thick rectangle, about 9 inches by 13 inches. Fold the dough in half, then fold it again, then fold it a third time, then use a rolling pin to gently roll the dough back out to a 3⁄4-inch thick rectangle, about 9 inches by 13 inches. If the top of the dough isn’t yet smooth, gently repeat this rolling and folding one or two more times until it is.
  8. Lightly flour the counter and roll the dough to a height of about 11⁄4 inches. Cut straight down with a 2 1⁄2-inch biscuit cutter, wiping and flouring the cutter between each cut. This will ensure the biscuits rise straight up, instead of sloping over. Reroll the scraps once and cut remaining dough into biscuits.
  9. Place the biscuits about 1⁄2 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush the tops generously with cream. Bake at 450°F for 8 minutes, then rotate pans and switch their oven positions. Continue baking another 8 to 10 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and feel light when picked up.
  10. Transfer biscuits to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm.
  11. To freeze the biscuits for up to 6 weeks, freeze cut biscuits in a single layer on a baking sheet until solid, then transfer to plastic freezer bag and freeze. To bake, do not defrost. Brush frozen biscuits with cream and bake for 10 minutes at 450°F and 10 to 12 minutes at 375°F.

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Reviews (8) Questions (0)

8 Reviews

Regine January 28, 2018
I have tried 2 other biscuit recipes and both failed due to my dough being too wet and not “cut-able.” Yet, I am an experienced cake and bread baker. I am afraid to try this one. LOL<br />How wet is the dough? Video shows it is easily spread on table, folded and cut. But 2 cups liquid for 3 1/2 cup flour sounds like it will yield a very wet dough. Any advice-feedback?
 
Brian November 6, 2017
I made these yesterday, following the recipe and no substitutions. The only change I made was that I immediately freeze the dough after cutting into shapes. I took one out this morning and baked at 400 degrees for about 18 minutes, until lightly browned on top. The biscuit came out amazingly delicious, light and flaky. I highly recommend this recipe.
 
creamtea July 4, 2017
These came out beautifully. I didn't have cream or buttermilk so I substituted yogurt (happened to be goat-milk yogurt) and whole milk. I sprinkled a little turbinado sugar on the tops after brushing with milk. They were lovely.
 
Maureen May 29, 2017
I'm sorry to say that this recipe just did not work as expected. I followed it to the letter including briefly freezing buttermilk and chilling bowl and beater. I used fresh baking powder yet the biscuits did not rise at all. They also did not brown on top despite cream wash. A major disappointment considering the effort and expense of the ingredients.
 
Rich May 3, 2017
Raw.<br />Watch the video: https://food52.com/blog/19305-watch-samin-nosrat-make-rule-breaking-supremely-flaky-biscuits?utm_campaign=20170503_eds_cookingcamp&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_term=9514395
 
Mobar May 3, 2017
To freeze biscuits -- are we directed to freeze the raw dough or the already baked biscuit? Thanks!
 
Stephanie G. April 29, 2017
See above author's note...food processor of pastry cutter. It will take much longer but is possible.
 
Greenlkgrl April 24, 2017
Any advice for those of us who don't have a stand mixer?