How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits

Millicent Souris shares her recipe for square biscuits that even a born-and-bred ATLien can't resist.

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Shot at Brooklyn Kitchen; all photos by Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay)

As a Southerner who grew up outside of Atlanta, I have pretty strong opinion about biscuits. Growing up, I’d get mine at Loretta’s, a local spot on the way to school—they were big, square biscuits nearly the size of ceiling tiles, with a light brushing of butter over the top and heavy dusting of salt finished the top.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting to have some of the best biscuits of my life when I moved north to New York, but that’s exactly what happened in 2012 when I met Millicent Souris, a local chef teaching pie-crust classes at Brooklyn Kitchen.

The biscuits weren’t actually on any menu at the time, but Millicent made them for the staff at the shop once and they blew me away—they hit an ideal middle-ground between dense and flaky, with a square shape perfect for biscuit sandwiches. Her approach to cooking has resonated with me since, and I decided I needed to find out how she developed this genius recipe, which felt like a rarity in NYC: square, buttery biscuits without any chives or other unnecessary add-ins—just buttermilk, fat, and flour.

“I remember we needed to make biscuits when I working at Hideaway, and I was scouring cookbooks and asking people who had more experience than me,” she told me when I asked her how she devolved the recipe. “Nothing really worked. We got the base recipe from a place in Portland, and I [starting tweaking it].”

She went through various iterations at other restaurants, slowly narrowing down the keys—cold butter, kosher salt—to the perfect recipe. “I’ve made it a lot—maybe not as much as pie crust, but I’ll say probably a thousand times.”

In other words, these biscuits have been through the ringer. Try them out—I swear on my Georgia roots that you won’t be disappointed.

Check out some photos of Millicent in action above, then follow the instructions below to make your own batch. They’re great on their own or topped with jam. But they’re versatile, too. Throw some cheese inside for an upgrade on the Red Lobster classic, or use the tops to cover mini pot pies.

Millicent Souris’ Buttermilk Biscuits

Yield: 12 Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups AP Flour (17.6oz)
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp Baking Powder (16g)
  • 2½ tsp Kosher Salt (9g)*
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter (1 cup/226.5g) or cold leaf lard, or a mixture of the two
  • 1¾ cup buttermilk (388g)**
  • Flour for rolling out
  • Egg wash
  • Sea salt

Cooking instructions

Preheat oven to 425°F degrees.

Sift the dry ingredients together. Cut the fat into ¼” pieces and scatter over the dry ingredients, then quickly incorporate into the flour. Do this by pinching each piece of butter or lard, creating a completely strange and uneven shape that has no name. Do not break down the fat too much; we want the fat big so the layers of biscuit are evident.

Add the buttermilk. Do not just dump it all in; this is a dough, not a batter. The less you handle it, the better it will turn out. Pour the butter around the outside of the flour and butter and then across the middle. (As you make this recipe more, you’ll see that the perfect amount of liquid fluctuates depending on the humidity, the temperature, the location of Uranus, etc., so don’t be afraid to play around). Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly mix the dough until the buttermilk absorbed. Add the remaining buttermilk, but if at any moment the dough seems wet, please stop. Ideally, the biscuit dough appears a touch dry.

Turn the bowl out on the counter, with all the bottom dry bits on top. It seems a mess, barely cohesive, but pull it all together and knead it a bit, about 20 times, until it comes together. You’re not making pasta or bread here, people; this is biscuits. It’s a primitive mess of fat and flour barely held together with buttermilk. So don’t knead the shit out of it, just enough so it comes together. Then, roll it out to about an inch thick and cut with a sharp knife. Cutting them into squares does two things: cuts down on waste and allows for greater height and flakiness. Your knife is/should be sharper than any damn biscuit cutter. Brush with an egg or milk wash and sprinkle a little sea salt on top if you like. Or raw sugar.

It’s important the oven is up to temperature before you put the biscuits in. This heat is what creates the flakiness. Check at 10 minutes and turn the tray. Finished at 20 minutes. If you feel like the biscuits are getting too much color but aren’t done cooking, lower the temp of the oven to 350.

These biscuits freeze well. Bake from frozen if you like.

*Please use Kosher Salt for recipes. Buy that big red and white box of Diamond Kosher Salt for three bucks. Don’t use iodized salt, its grain is very fine and completely alters the salt content by volume.
**If you don’t have buttermilk use one tablespoon of apple cider or white vinegar and add milk so together they measure one fluid cup. Let it sit for 15 minutes on the counter. This information comes to you from the legendary Edna Lewis.

Millicent Souris is a cook, writer, and teacher. She’s cooked at restaurants in Brooklyn in Manhattan, and she teaches classes at Brooklyn Kitchen, both in Williamsburg and Hell’s Kitchen. Her cookbook, How To Build A Better Pie, is available from Quarry Books.

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