Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

March 30, 2017
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes 16 biscuits
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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • D'vora Rosenthal
    D'vora Rosenthal
  • Cate Batson Baril
    Cate Batson Baril
  • Gal
  • Kt4
  • Regine

15 Reviews

D'vora R. November 1, 2020
Thank you for sharing, I thought these were wonderful, flight, and flaky. I don't have a stand mixer so I used a cheese grater on my butter (then stuck it back in the freezer) instead of chopping it into chunks. That worked well.
Cate B. June 20, 2020
Awesome!!! Thank you Samin 😘
Cookingmom May 3, 2020
These biscuits are everything the recipe says it is: light, flaky, and delicious! My whole family finished the entire batch. I can't wait to make these again!
weyams April 23, 2020
I baked this recipe on a whim and because I respect Samin as a chef. My past includes baking professionally for over 10 years. This recipe is way out of dry to wet balance. I weighed the flour and measured the rest. After folding in the flour if I were to attempt to make a biscuit it would look like a fried egg. I added two more cups of flour in parts as needed approximately. I know the feel of a biscuit dough. Having done this provided a good product. Now that I have read a few other reviews it is evident there is a problem and I would suggest the Chef remake this formula as is to check its performance. With the addition of flour the biscuits came out great. I would add a pic if I could figure out how to load it. This is simply a heads up to future bakers of this biscuit recipe.
Gal April 7, 2019
A few words/explanations behind the idea of making a flaky dough:

1) Fat matters! Flaky pastry or dough relies on large lumps of shortening mixed into the dough. Flakiness comes from the solid fat (In this recipe it's butter, buttermilk, heavy cream). The idea of any flaky pastry is to incorporate thin layers of fat between the layers of dough. The fat (cold butter, directly from the freezer) is mixed (“cut”) into the flour so it is left in chunks. During baking, this is when the very cold pieces of butter melts in the oven, leaving air pockets between the thin pastry layers after they have firmed, resulting in loads of crisp, flaky layers. The evaporating of water in the butter will create steam, which helps the “puffing”.
The size of the fat pieces in the raw dough determines the quality of the flakiness in the crust: The larger the pieced of fat, the larger the flakes.

2) Temperature matters! Keeping the butter super cold (Samin says to freeze the cubed butter and the buttermilk for 15 minutes, on Step 2) also helps when making this dough (and other short crust pastry) because it doesn't melt into the flour when you are working it in. In this recipe (And with puff), cold butter provides the vital barrier and air pockets between the pastry that translates into delicious flakiness.

3) Applying proper lamination technique is important! This means folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough (Step 7 on this recipe).
Kt4 January 22, 2019
Samin, what are your thoughts on freezing half the butter and grating it instead of cubing it? Might it incorporate better? Esp for someone without a mixer or food processor.
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
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?
Tamara E. February 6, 2020
It is a pretty wet dough. I usually dont need to add all the liquid, with about 1/4 cup remaining which I use to brush tops. Flour your board well tok.
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
Watch the video:
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 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?