“Brilliant, simply brilliant!”
That’s what I said, right out loud, when I read the unbelievably easy directions for preparing these buttermilk biscuits…
The technique was created by the super smart folks over at Cooks Illustrated. When I read their method for making drop biscuits I figured it was too good to be true. But being a curious-cat when it comes to all things culinary, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.
You would have probably laughed, if you saw me just after I read the article. I ran to the kitchen, turned on the oven and pulled out a bowl, along with measuring tools and the necessary ingredients. Super basic ingredients I had in my pantry and fridge (you probably do too!); flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar, buttermilk and, of course, butter.
Why did this sound too good to be true? Well, buttermilk biscuits can be a bit tricky. The technique usually calls for combining the dry ingredients, then “cutting” in cold butter with a knife, a pastry cutter or between your fingers. The liquid is then added and everything is gently combined. If done correctly, the tiny pieces of butter, evenly distributed throughout the flour mixture, are what give classic buttermilk biscuits their lightness, flakiness and layers of peelable, buttery deliciousness. It’s not a difficult technique, just a bit time consuming, and the results are not always consistent. The Cooks Illustrated technique is totally different… and ridiculously easy!
How does it work? Well, I’m glad you asked… start by placing a cup of buttermilk in the freezer for a few minutes while you melt the butter in the microwave. Let the melted butter cool for a few minutes while you prep the other ingredients. Then, it’s just a matter of combining all the dry ingredients in a bowl and giving them a good stir. The melted butter is then combined with the super cold buttermilk. And this, my people, is when the magic begins!
When the warm butter hits the cold liquid, small, buttery globules form.
Do you see where this is going? When this buttermilk mixture is added to the dry flour mixture and it’s all stirred together, you’ll notice tiny pieces of pale yellow butter dotting the simple dough. Yup, it will look just as if you spent the time to cut them in!
The Cooks Illustrated recipe is for simple drop biscuits, meaning you just drop spoonfuls onto a sheet pan, then bake. I decided to have some fun and see if this recipe would work for a more classic, cut-out style biscuit. I simply turned out the dough onto a floured work surface, kneaded it a few times, then patted it into a small, square. I dipped a round biscuit cutter in flour and cut four circles. Re-rolling the scraps, yielded two more for a total of six. Since then, I’ve also used a smaller cutter, yielding 8 biscuits.
It was easy enough, actually ridiculously easy. The biscuits rolled out of the oven tall and golden brown with a heavenly aroma. But you’re probably wondering how this version tastes and how they stack up to traditional buttermilk biscuits, right?
When Scott and I took the first bite, we looked at each other incredulously. The biscuits were light, tender, buttery, flaky and crazy-delicious. “Wow, these are amazing!” Scott said. I agreed.
In fact, we ate far too many that day, smothered with melting butter and strawberry jam. You’d probably frown on us, if I told you these biscuits ended up being dinner that night, so I won’t share that bit of information. I guess I’ll just say, it wouldn’t have been a good day for counting calories!
I’ve had quite a few happy taste-testers since then and everyone is shocked when they hear how easy these wonderful biscuits are to make. You will be too… you might even have the inclination to exclaim “Brilliant, simply brilliant!” Bon Appetit!
P.S. I’m actually writing this post on the plane as we wing our way home from England. We spent an incredible three weeks with our family in London and accompanied them on a trip to France. We’ll be sharing one more travel post later this week titled “Who wants to be in London in February?” February is traditionally cold, wet, dreary and impossibly dismal in England. We took it as a challenge to look beyond the surface and discover beauty in this beastly time of year.
Oh, and to see fun, behind-the-scenes shots from The Café as well as a peek into Café travel adventures, follow us on Instagram!
- 1 cup cold buttermilk*
- 9 tablespoons (113 G) butter, divided
- 2 cups** all purpose flour, more for counter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon table salt
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or spray a sheet pan with cooking spray.
- Measure 1 cup of buttermilk and place cup in the freezer while prepping other ingredients (you want it to be in the freezer about 10 minutes.
- Place butter in a microwave safe bowl, cover with a paper towel and heat on high for 30 seconds. If not completely melted, return to microwave for 10 second intervals till melted. Set aside to cool a bit while prepping other ingredients.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar,and salt in large bowl.
- After buttermilk has been chilled in freezer for 10 minutes, combine it with 8 tablespoons of the melted butter. (Reserve the last tablespoon for brushing on the baked biscuits.) Stir with a fork until butter forms small clumps or globules. (See picture in post.)
- Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula just until all flour is incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Dough should be stiff and not super wet. If dough is wet, add more flour 1 tablespoons at a time, stirring to combine, until dough is fairly stiff.
- Generously flour a work surface. Dump biscuit dough from bowl onto prepared work surface and turn to coat all surfaces with flour. Knead on counter 5-6 times (about 30 seconds) . Flip over on work surface to coat with flour then pat into a 6-inch square. It should be 1½-2-inches in height. Cut four biscuits with a 2½-inch biscuit cutter. Place biscuits of prepared sheet pan. Knead scraps a few times till they hold together, then pat into a small rectangle and cut two more biscuits. Transfer last two biscuits to sheet pan, spacing about 1½ inches apart. (See notes for an even easier cutting technique****).
- Place in oven and bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 8 to 18 minutes. (start checking them after 8 minutes as ovens vary. You want them to be a nice golden brown but not too brown - check the pictures above for correct color.)
- Re-melt remaining tablespoon of butter in microwave, if necessary and brush tops of hot biscuits with melted butter. Serve and enjoy!
* If you don't have buttermilk, make your own. Place 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup. Fill to 1 cup level with milk and stir well. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Mixture may curdle a bit, that's okay! Use in recipes in lieu of buttermilk.
Don't skip chilling the buttermilk (step 2). It will definitely make a difference. If the buttermilk is not really cold, the little butter globule won't form.
** I made these biscuits when I was in London visiting my daughter. I learned the all purpose flour (Plain flour) is a bit different there and it seemed that I needed more, probably closer to 2¼ cups.
***These biscuits freezer well. To freeze, place biscuits on a sheet pan or a plate spaced at least a half inch from each other. Freeze till frozen, then transfer biscuits to a ziplock bag or air-tight storage container.
**** If I'm feeling a bit pinched for time or lazy, I'll just pat the dough into a 6-inch circle and use a bench scraper to cut the dough into wedges. I either put these wedges on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or in a 9-inch cake pan lined with parchment.