Our Favorite Buttermilk Biscuit

4.2
(25)

However you make them, you'll be rewarded with layer upon buttery layer of biscuit perfection.

Active Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
50 mins
Yield:
12 to 14 biscuits

Buttermilk biscuits are a staple of Southern cuisine for excellent reason; these flaky, airy, and buttery pastries are considered a heritage food of the region, and every family has their own recipe for biscuits, many of which are passed down from generation to generation.

After baking hundreds of Southern buttermilk biscuit recipes, our Test Kitchen landed on this winning recipe for Our Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits. This no-fail biscuit recipe will make you look like a pro, even if this is your first attempt at biscuit-making.

The instructions below are precise for a reason and should be followed as written. When we say to stir the dough 15 times, we mean it! When rolling out the dough, don't press down too hard or overwork the dough. This will give the biscuits a dense, tough texture. And if you're looking for something a little beyond a basic biscuit, try one of our delicious variations.

Our Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits on a plate with butter and jam
Will Dickey

Why We Love These Buttermilk Biscuits

This recipe is a masterpiece of culinary simplicity—to make it, you only need three ingredients. The instructions are straightforward, giving baking newbies plenty of guidance while also helping experienced bakers achieve the perfect results. Ultimately, this recipe yields biscuits with the ideal blend of softness and flakiness.

Flavor-wise, the biscuits are neutral enough to complement any entrees or condiments, but feature appealing hints of saltiness and tanginess to keep diners engaged. They also have the structural integrity to travel well, so you'll always have a go-to item to bring to potlucks and picnics.

Buttermilk Biscuit Ingredients

Buttermilk biscuits don't require a pantry's worth of baking ingredients; instead, most recipes only call for flour, baking powder and/or baking soda, butter, buttermilk, and salt. But if you want to simplify the process even more (while still achieving delicious results), "you can substitute self-rising flour and skip the addition of baking powder and baking soda in the recipe," says chef/partner Alon Shaya of Pomegranate Hospitality in New Orleans. In fact, self-rising flour also contains salt, so using it can majorly whittle down your biscuit-ingredient shopping list.

When choosing butter to use when making your biscuits, don't skimp on quality. "Unsalted butter is needed for the best buttermilk biscuits. The higher the fat content, the better. I love using French butter, like Plugra. The more fat and less water in the butter, the flakier your biscuits will be. You can also substitute pork lard for butter," says Shaya.

Our sources generally agreed that using ingredient substitutions for biscuits can be dicey, as the ingredients recommended in our recipe are tried-and-true staples. However, if you do want to play around with different fats in lieu of butter and buttermilk, Chef Kate Sigel of Marsh House in Nashville has some suggestions: "Butter and buttermilk could be substituted for other fats, as long as the texture of the substitutions is similar. For example, if you typically use buttermilk, you want another thick, high-fat liquid, such as coconut milk. For butter, one could use shortening, with the caveat that it will make the final product a bit more crispy rather than buttery, or coconut oil."

Why We Use Cold Butter for Biscuits

You may be wondering why our recipe instructs you to freeze your butter and then chill it in the fridge after combining it with the flour. Here's the answer to that question, courtesy of executive pastry chef Rachel Ball of Millers All Day in Charleston: "You use cold butter because you want the butter to create air pockets in the dough as it melts, which create steam when baking. It is what helps make those flaky layers and that fluffy texture."

How Buttermilk Affects These Biscuits

Buttermilk has a specific and valuable effect on biscuits, both in terms of their flavor and their texture. "The acidity in the buttermilk reacts with the leavening [in the self-rising flour], giving the biscuits maximum lift. Buttermilk also tenderizes the gluten, making for a softer, less tough biscuit. It also tastes great!" insists executive pastry chef Jen Yee of Hopkins & Company Hospitality in Atlanta.

In terms of flavor, chef/owner Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky says that "buttermilk delivers the slightly tart flavor that adds to the complexity of the biscuit."

How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits

First and foremost, remember that "biscuits are best made quickly by hand," according to Lee. The process shouldn't be overly complicated or time-consuming; just follow the instructions and the timing listed in the recipe, and you'll be all set.

Start by preheating your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and pulling a stick of butter out of the freezer (it takes a few hours to freeze, so work that into your set-up plans before you start making the biscuits). Use the large holes of a box grater to grate the butter.

shredded butter on a piece of parchment paper
Will Dickey

Then toss the grated butter with the flour in a medium-sized bowl. Put the bowl in the fridge, and allow it to chill for 10 minutes.

combining butter and flour in a bowl

Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge, make a well at the center of the dough, and add the buttermilk. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to stir the dough 15 times; this number of stirs incorporates the buttermilk without over-mixing. If the dough is sticky at the end of this step, then you're on the right track.

biscuit dough after buttermilk is added

Sprinkle enough flour over your counter to give it a light coating, then turn the dough out onto it, lightly dusting the top of the dough with more flour.

biscuit dough rolled out on marble
Will Dickey

Next, rub a light layer of flour onto a rolling pin and use the pin to roll the dough into a 9" x 5" rectangle that's ¾" thick. Fold the dough in half (short end to short end) and roll into another 9" x 5" rectangle. Repeat four more times.

rolling dough into a rectangle
Will Dickey
folding buttermilk biscuit dough over in half
Will Dickey
rectangle of buttermilk biscuit dough
Will Dickey

At the end of the fourth rollout (you should have a 9" x 5" rectangle), roll the rectangle one more time until it's ½" thick. Use a round cutter (2 1/2" is a good size—make sure that you flour it!) to cut the dough into as many biscuits as you can.

buttermilk biscuit dough rounds on a sheet pan and some being cut out of dough

Place the dough rounds on a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper (or greased with butter).

buttermilk biscuits before going into oven

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and set aside. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the biscuits develop a light-brown color. Remove the biscuits from the oven and, while they're still warm, brush them with the melted butter.

a pan of buttermilk biscuits getting a brush of melted butter
Will Dickey

How to Fold Biscuit Dough

The rolling-and-folding method used for these biscuits creates layers, which provide the flaky texture that everyone loves. To fold the dough, just roll it into a rectangle (the cleaner the edges, the better) and bring the shorter ends together corner-to-corner. Each fold creates another round of layers, so be sure to do the full five folds that the recipe recommends.

What to Serve With Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk biscuits are among the most flexible breads that you can serve; they're just as good with savory toppings as they are with sweet, and they fit seamlessly into any meal at any time of day. A few of our favorite ways to serve these biscuits include:

Biscuits and Gravy
Buttermilk biscuits make a perfect vehicle for rich sausage gravy. To turn this into a brunch classic, add a serving of scrambled or poached eggs.

Homemade Preserves
Fruit jams and preserves bring both sweetness and a hint of acidity, which makes for a beautiful flavor combination on top of buttermilk biscuits (which also have a slightly tangy taste, thanks to the buttermilk). Try our recipes for Pear Preserves, Strawberry Lemonade Jam, or even the more savory Tomato Jam.

Fried Chicken
Slicing a buttermilk biscuit in half, laying a piece of fried chicken down on one piece, adding a swipe of honey and a pat of butter, and topping it with the other piece of biscuit is a classic Southern meal, and our recipe for Mama's Fried Chicken will set you up for a sandwich masterpiece.

How to Store Buttermilk Biscuits

"Biscuits are best day-of" is the to-the-point advice of pastry chef Jenny McCoy of Buck Russell's in Chicago (and formerly of Emeril's in New Orleans). Our sources overwhelmingly agree that it's best to eat biscuits on the day that you make them; "the quality decreases as the biscuit sits out," explains Ball.

That said, if you don't have the bandwidth to consume a whole batch of biscuits in one day, Ball says, "I would store the biscuits in an airtight container" at room temperature for up to 48 hours.

Some bakers assume that storing their biscuits in the fridge will give them more longevity, but Sara Bradley, a Top Chef alum and the owner/proprietor of freight house in Paducah, Kentucky warns against it. ""Do not store [biscuits] in the fridge, or they will get super hard," she says.

Can I Freeze Buttermilk Biscuits?

While biscuits don't have a long shelf life at room temperature (and shouldn't go in the fridge), they can be stored in the freezer. "If you seal them in the freezer, they can last up to 90 days," says chef/owner Erica Barrett of SOCU Southern Kitchen and Oyster Bar in Alabama. To keep baked biscuits in the freezer, pack them in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag.

As an alternative, Kate Sigel recommends freezing extra dough before baking: "The dough can be made, scooped or cut to shape and then stored well-sealed in a freezer for up to one month for easy baking when you're in the mood for a biscuit."

Tips For Making The Best Buttermilk Biscuits

Keep the butter cold.

We've already explained the importance of cold butter for biscuits, but it's worth repeating. Room-temperature butter won't release the same amount of steam, so you won't get the flaky layers that most biscuit enthusiasts crave. Putting butter in the freezer keeps it as cold as possible before the baking process begins, and because frozen butter also has a more solid texture, it becomes far easier to grate (and easier to mix with flour).

Don't overhandle the dough.

Tempting though it may be to knead the dough again and again with your hands, resist that urge. Using your fingers to handle the dough will cause the butter to warm up, reducing its textural effectiveness. Plus, overworked dough is more prone to breakage and crumbling, so the biscuits won't have the structural appeal that they should. Stick with a spoon or spatula for mixing the dough, and don't go beyond 15 stirs.

If you don't have buttermilk, regular milk and vinegar can be used instead.

Buttermilk is a fairly easy ingredient to replicate in your own kitchen; all you need is plain milk and either lemon juice or white vinegar. "No buttermilk? Use one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice and enough plain milk to equal one cup. Stir well and let stand for five minutes," suggests executive pastry chef Jessica Grossman of Patrick Properties Hospitality Group in Charleston.

Editorial contributions by Taylor Tobin.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), frozen

  • 2 ½ cups self-rising flour

  • 1 cup chilled buttermilk

  • Parchment paper

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Grate frozen butter using large holes of a box grater. Toss together grated butter and flour in a medium bowl. Chill 10 minutes.

  2. Make a well in center of mixture. Add buttermilk, and stir 15 times. Dough will be sticky.

  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle flour over top of dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a ¾-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Fold dough in half so short ends meet. Repeat rolling and folding process 4 more times.

  4. Roll dough to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 ½-inch floured round cutter, reshaping scraps and flouring as needed.

  5. Place dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter.

    Our Favorite Buttermilk Biscuit on a plate with jam and butter
    Will Dickey

Chef's Notes

For Pillowy Dinner Rolls: Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening instead of cold butter. You'll get a soft biscuit that stays tender, even when cool. Plus, shortening has a neutral flavor that will complement anything on your dinner plate.

Updated by
Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin

Taylor Tobin is a freelance food and lifestyle journalist based in Austin, Texas. She has been covering home cooking and home bartending for over five years, with bylines in publications like Eater, HuffPost, Insider, Allrecipes, Wine Enthusiast, and The Spruce Eats. She's an avid home chef who's always eager to try new recipes, and she's constantly inspired by the culinary traditions of the exciting city of Austin, which she calls home.

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