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
Watch This Recipe
Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
3 1/2 cups
(18 1⁄2 ounces) all-purpose flour
kosher salt or 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
(8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes and chilled
heavy cream, chilled, plus 1⁄4 cup more for brushing biscuits
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
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.
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.
Add the rest of the butter and continue mixing until the butter pieces are the size of large peas, about 4 minutes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transfer biscuits to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm.
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.