No one likes recipes that blather and ramble on for paragraphs and photos upon photos before finally getting to the recipe, so here’s the recipe straight up (but I hope you read the story behind these biscuits).
Biscuits that Rise (For Me)
Makes about 8-9 biscuits
- ~15oz of sifted self-rising flour (White Lily preferred!)
- 1 1/2 sticks of butter (6oz)
- ~8oz of buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
Tools: flour sifter, bowls, a sharp biscuit cutter, a grater, a spatula, parchment paper, baking sheet, and measuring cups.
The night before you make biscuits, put almost everything in the freezer: the flour, all the tools (except the baking sheet and parchment paper), and the butter. Set your oven timer to preheat the oven at 475 degrees for at least 30-60 minutes prior to when you think you will finish your biscuits. Keep the buttermilk in the fridge (don’t put it in the freezer), but when you start making the biscuits in the morning, measure out your buttermilk first and put that in freezer while you do everything else.
In the morning, after measuring out your buttermilk, use a cheese grater to grate the frozen butter into a bowl. Put that in the freezer. Sift your 15oz of flour into a large metal, cold mixing bowl and add a bit of salt and mix.
Then add your grated butter and stir with a spatula to incorporate the butter throughout the flour.
The idea is to use your hands as little as possible until the end because you will warm up the butter. You want the butter to melt in the end because you need the fat to interact with the acid in the buttermilk and the baking soda in the self-rising flour.
Once butter is incorporated, make a well in your mix and pour about 6oz of buttermilk, reserving about 2oz for adjustment. Mix the flour into the buttermilk in the well with your spatula to give it a bit of volume, but don’t mix it too much!
Once the flour/buttermilk mixture is a bit sludgey, start to fold in the sides of the flour into the buttermilk. This is tricky. Use your hands every once in a while to get a feel for how wet the mix is. If it’s too wet, your biscuits will still taste great but they will spludge out instead of rising. If it’s too dry, they may still rise but they’ll crumble apart. Add buttermilk as necessary. I usually end up using all 8 oz, but not always.
Once you feel confident you have mixed in enough buttermilk, carefully turn it over onto a floured surface. It’s ok if it’s falling apart. It should not resemble traditional baking dough; it shouldn’t have a surface or a shape. What turns out onto the floured surface should kind of look like a failure.
But that’s ok! Once it’s all out on the surface, gather it together and gently push it down with your hands (don’t use a roller!) so that it’s a rectangle that will give you about two rows of three biscuits once cut, and is about 1 1/2 inches high.
Fold it onto itself, and rotate around, gathering the lost bits of dough into the rectangle. Don’t overfold - you will probably fold about 3-5 times - but it should be enough that the dough holds together as a single piece as you gently fold it onto itself. If it breaks, keep folding or add just a smidgen of buttermilk. Keep reshaping into a rectangle.
Once you feel confident it’s squished together enough - again, don’t overfold or over-handle - flour your biscuit cutter. If you need to sharpen it a bit, do so by running a paring knife along its surface several times.
Use the floured biscuit cutter to push down into the mix - do not spin or twist your biscuit cutter! Push down, quickly, like a knife. (If you’re short a biscuit cutter, you can use a sharp knife and make square biscuits! I’ve done that in a pinch.)
Put the biscuit onto parchment paper on a baking sheet.
You should get about six biscuits, and have enough dough to refold into another rectangle to make 1-2 more biscuits.
Put in the oven at 475 degrees and set a timer for 10 minutes. Try not to open the oven until you absolutely need to. Use the light. (And instead of watching, go start on your second batch!)
At about 10 minutes take a peek - don’t open your oven wide. Your biscuits should cook quickly. They should have started to brown at the top, and on the bottom. The tops should be a slightly browned-white throughout, with little caps of darker brown. Also, if you are hearing them sizzle a bit, they’re not done. My biscuits usually take about 12 minutes, but during the summer it can be right at 10 minutes. Don’t forget about them and set your timer even for a minute more.
Once they’re done, pull them out, and gently let them rest for a few minutes on a baking rack. They’re not done yet by the way! If you eat them now, their layers will not have cooled enough and they will separate. But once they’ve cooled just a tad, they’re ready to eat!
I put mine in a glass or ceramic bowl lined with a hefty tea towel and they’ll stay warm for an hour! It’s easy to warm them up too, even if you’re done making biscuits. Just throw them in the still-warm oven for a few minutes.
You can also freeze them and reheat them in a toaster oven for ~8 minutes.
Most importantly: share them with family and friends and strangers! Biscuits are one of the best comfort foods ever.
And if your biscuits didn’t turn out, that’s ok! Biscuits are deceptively complicated little things. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest. But keep trying! You’ll figure it out.
The story behind my biscuit journey, or How Biscuits Saved My Self-Worth
In the summer of 2017 I left a job that left me. It was the kind of job that drained my energy and passion (my “spoons” was what one person called it after I told them my story) because it was the kind of job where finishing projects required expertise at internal politics and presentations and meetings.
I’m not great at finishing things anyway. I’m a starter. When I finish projects, it’s because I’ve trained myself to think about the next project and see completion as a step to starting something new. But in a job where finishing was rare and even impossible due to circumstances outside of my control, I was never starting anything; I was perpetually in the middle of projects. And usually those projects would be canceled or changed, at no fault of my own (that was communicated to me anyway). So, never finishing anything meant never starting anything new, which is what I love, right. Working there took everything I could give.
I left, or the job left me, or let me go, or I let it go, or whatever. We parted ways amicably is the best way to put it.
I moped for a week or two. Then one morning I woke up and wanted to make biscuits. I’d moved to the South (to work at the job I’d just left), and it felt right to master biscuitry. So, every Saturday and sometimes on weekdays, I’d wake up and try another recipe or technique.
I love to cook for all the reasons that the job had drained my energy: with cooking you start, you work on it, and you finish it, and you have total ownership over the inputs, the process, and the results. What ends up on the plate, for better or worse, is up to the cook. There are no excuses.
Recipes are great for communicating food ideas because they are precise and instructional, even though I imagine that recipes are really just some poor intern looking over the shoulder of a chef, trying to keep track of what they’re throwing in. This is why I loved recipes. They were a precise framework for expectations and results.
I thought that that same recipe precision applied to biscuits, but no, it didn’t work. All the recipes I tried failed:
Sometimes my biscuits tasted fine, even excellent. Some would rise slightly higher than others, but no matter what they stayed low. I experimented with over 20 recipes. I watched youtube videos. I read books. Nothing worked. It was really discouraging. Recipes usually work for me. But recipes were letting me down every time.
I hate to over-dramatize it, but all that failure felt like confirmation of the ways I thought I had failed at my job. But I kept at it. I kept at it because I had to. I know it also sounds silly, but I felt like if I couldn’t learn and succeed at biscuits, could I really do anything?
And then one morning, after prepping the oven and materials the night before, I woke up and I knew it would work. I didn’t need a recipe. I just…did it.
Sure enough it worked!!!
For the first time in months, after 20-30 tries, my biscuits rose!
Check it out:
Now I make biscuits most Saturdays. I message neighbors and invite them to stop by. Some folks stop by for coffee and biscuits and sausage (we get the kind of sausage in plastic wrap without much of a label that is sold at the nearby Big Bear grocery store) and we talk and catch up for hours. Some folks pull up to the curb and one of my daughters runs out biscuits to them, curb-side service style (like liquor stores in Kentucky!). Either way is wonderful.
My biscuits don’t always rise. This week it’s been raining non-stop, and I didn’t think to lower the level of moistures in my biscuits and they turned out flat:
But the great thing about biscuits is that there’s always another batch to be made.
When I said the recipes didn’t work, I was kind of lying. The recipes worked, actually. It just took months of studying the recipes to know what I needed to know in order to do it on my own. I needed the recipes to do it without the recipes. I’ve taken this as a lesson to learning anything new, and this insight has shed light on my own experience at that tech company.
In retrospect, I realized that I hadn’t failed at that job as much as I thought when I started making biscuits. A lot of the projects I started at that place are still going strong, long after my departure. That’s not to say I never failed. In fact, I did fail, a lot. I came to realize that it was this biscuit-like approach that probably tainted the way leadership viewed my work. What I saw was me getting up and trying again and again. The pitch that didn’t work in that meeting? Didn’t get a budget? The prototype didn’t pass muster? Well, I was back the following week at the next pitch meeting with another idea.
What it all might’ve looked like to other people was a string of failures with little success. One failure after another. In that environment, at that particular department at that growth stage at that company, failing and trying again and again came across as a scattered and maybe even desperate. I would have done better working on one small project for a long time and nudging it week after week, eventually launching it in half-baked state like a flat biscuit, rather than aiming for a big fluffy project.
But that’s not who I am. I’m not satisfied with flatness. Learning to make biscuits taught me that even though I fail, I am not a failure. I might be a fail-er, but I’m someone who keeps trying until I succeed. And when I finally get there, the damn thing rises, and people love what I do, and I make my own recipe.
That’s another biscuit metaphor.
Most importantly I tried hard to not fail at being a good person. Like my projects, I know I made mistakes. But I did my best to invest time and effort into being a better human at work. And that worked too. I’ll be at the grocery store in Atlanta and former co-workers will ambush me with warm hugs. I’ll be at a restaurant and former co-workers invite me to sit down with them and catch up. This tells me a) that I got to know a lot of amazing, kind people at that job who made an impact on me, and b) I didn’t fail with people; I made an impact on them as much as they did on me. I don’t ever regret working there, or quitting/being asked to quit (fired/not fired is how my kids say it).
And in the end people are more important than projects. The universe is made of relationships and interactions, not things. Those hugs - one person interacting with another - mean so much more to me, and they are how the universe spins.
Which is why biscuits are so great. They’re like hugs, edible hugs. They’re a simple gesture that contain within them so much comfort and warmth.
The point isn’t the biscuit, the thing, the point is sharing biscuits with people you love.
So, if you’re struggling out there, whether it’s at work or at making biscuits, it’s ok. Things don’t always work out the way we think. Just keep trying. There’s always another batch.
And if you’re ever in my neighborhood on a Saturday morning, hit me up and I’ll share some biscuits with you.
Sometimes I email folks about biscuits and we share pictures. I call it The Biscuit List. You can signup here.
Here are some more pictures of biscuits that rise: