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How to Make Flaky, Buttery Biscuits

An unusual mixing method is the secret to the flakiest buttermilk biscuits you’ve ever tasted

Fine Cooking Issue 85
Photos: Scott Phillips
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There are two types of people in the world: those who like tender biscuits and those who like flaky biscuits. I am without a doubt in the flaky camp. And in my quest to create a biscuit that’s as flaky as the best pie dough and so delicious that it needs no added butter or jam, I’ve experimented with lots of recipes and techniques. The method I’ve settled on is somewhat unorthodox, but it’s virtually foolproof, and more important, it consistently delivers the most amazing biscuits.

Usually, flaky biscuits are made by cutting cold fat—either butter, shortening, or lard—into flour, mixing in liquid, and then rolling or patting out the dough and cutting it. Sounds straightforward, but the results can be unpredictable, particularly for the novice. Several variables influence whether biscuits turn out flaky or not: the choice of fat, its temperature, how thoroughly you cut it into the flour, and how much you work the dough as you mix and shape it. And it’s hard to be consistent in all these matters. My recipe eliminates most of the variability by incorporating a few clever tricks.

The only fat I use is very cold butter. Some people insist that you can’t make a flaky biscuit without shortening and lard, which are pure fats, but I wholly disagree. Although it’s true that butter is only 85% fat (the remaining 15% is a combination of water and milk solids), nothing can match butter for flavor, and my results prove that you absolutely can use it to make a flaky biscuit.

I don’t cut the butter into the flour. This step really sets my recipe apart from the pack. Instead of using a pastry cutter to blend the butter into the flour, I simply slice the butter into small, thin bits and toss them with the flour. That’s it. This method ensures that the butter bits stay large, and when there are large bits of fat in the dough, there will be scrumptious flakes in the biscuits later.

I mix the dough briefly. When I add the buttermilk to the flour and butter, I stir just enough to bring the mixture together into a coarse ball of dough. Overworking the dough turns biscuits tough.

Finally, I fold the dough. For my biscuits, I borrow the folding technique that’s used in croissant and puff pastry dough. It creates many layers of dough and fat, which encourages the biscuits to puff up while they bake, creating maximum flakiness

Start cold, end hot

When making the dough, use very cold butter and buttermilk­, the colder the better. For the most flakiness, the butter needs to remain in firm bits and pieces

Bake in a super-hot oven. Heat the oven to 500°F, and then after you put the pan into the oven, reduce the heat to 450°F. The high heat sets the dough quickly, trapping the butter, which releases steam as it melts and encourages the dough to puff.


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