Cooking

TT Culinary Institute: Biscuits

How to make fluffy, flaky Southern-style biscuits
Photos: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table
Homemade Biscuits

All month long, we're celebrating the people, places, dishes and traditions that make Southern food so special. Come take a seat at our table. And for more lessons in cooking, check out the TT Culinary Institute.

You're going to need very cold butter for these biscuits, buddy.

That's the first step to ensure your biscuits will rise to fluffy perfection.

The second step is coming to terms with the fact that no matter how you make your biscuits, there will always be someone who disagrees with your method. It's inevitable. And we're okay with that.

With only a few ingredients, biscuits are one of the cheapest things to make. Yet, most of the confusion and debate comes with handling the ingredients and working with the dough. So after much testing and tasting (we baked at least eight batches), here are our tips for achieving biscuits just about any Southern grandmother would be proud to call her own (see the recipe).

Give dairy the cold shoulder. Go ahead, freeze your butter. Yes, you want it frozen. This step not only makes grating it easier but also allows for a more even distribution of fat. Freezing your butter also guarantees that the pieces of butter will, when baked, create pockets of steam, giving a bit more rise to the biscuits. Chef Hugh Acheson of The Florence in Savannah, Georgia, says, "You want to let the butter keep its small granular shape. Melted butter means that it mixes too much with the flour." And whichever liquid you decide to use, whether it's milk or our preferred mixture of buttermilk and cream, make sure it's cold.

  • Freezing the butter makes it easier to grate and creates air pockets (that turn into steam as the biscuits bake). The result? Extra flakiness.

  • Taking the extra step to sift your dry ingredients ensures that they are evenly mixed.

  • Combine the dry ingredients with the cold, grated butter using a fork. Then form a well in the center of the bowl. Pour the buttermilk-cream mixture into the well and continue to stir until the dough begins to form. Why buttermilk? Chef Linton Hopkins says, "Technically, the buttermilk interacts with the baking soda to leaven the dough, but I like the pleasing, sour tang that it adds to the biscuit's flavor."

  • Pat and fold the dough to create flaky layers.

  • Cut the biscuits using a two-and-a-half-inch round cutter. Place the biscuits on a sheet tray so that their edges are just touching and top each with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, then bake until they're light golden brown.

  • Get our recipe for flaky Southern-style biscuits. If you want to go all out, serve them with meaty Sawmill Gravy.

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Sift it real good. Sift all of your dry ingredients to smooth out any lumps that could weigh down those biscuits from rising evenly.

Keep your gluten in check. The biggest mistake most cooks make is that they handle the dough too much. This produces gluten, making for tough hockey pucks rather than tender biscuits. On the other hand, not stirring your biscuit mixture enough will result in underworked dough and a raw flour taste. Don't forget, your dough is a living thing that'll only take as much flour as it wants.

Fold, don't roll. Try to use your hands as little as possible when working with the dough. The heat of your hands can warm the butter—and you don't want that. Keep that butter very cold! Once your dough has come together, shape the dough into a rectangle, then fold your dough in half. Repeat these steps four more times, for a total of five folds, before before pressing the dough down to a three-quarter-inch thickness. By folding, you'll exponentially create more flakey layers. No need for a rolling pin here. Chef Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch in Atlanta agrees: "My secret [for biscuits] is to treat the dough as you would puff pastry and create book-like folds of layers."

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To drop or not to drop? We love the idea of forming big heaping mounds with two spoons and baking the drops in a cast-iron skillet until they're perfectly crumbly and golden. But we're all about the shaped biscuits—formed with cutters—that rise beautifully and end up with a light golden top and airy texture. And our ideal size is three bites, so we use a two-and-a-half-inch cutter and press straight down, without twisting, so that the layers of dough don't get slanted and the biscuits rise evenly.

Biscuits that stay together, rise together. Place your biscuits shoulder to shoulder on your baking sheet so that they are just touching. What you're doing here is forcing the steam to rise up, which makes the biscuits puff up and grow taller rather than spread out. You also get softer edges to easily split open and smear some honey butter or drizzle a bit of sorghum syrup.

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