Southern buttermilk biscuits remind me of my Mamaw. (My great grandmother.) She was from West Virginia and she could whup up some biscuits like nobody’s business. She was a tiny woman and had waist length hair that she kept braided and wrapped in a tight bun on the top of her head. Once, when I was spending the night with she and Daddo, I saw her take her hair down and brush it out before she went to bed. It was gray and wavy from the braid. It was beautiful. I decided then I was going to be like her when I got old.
Long hair, spittoon, rocking chair. Yep. That was my idea of old age, along with a porch on the bayou. She never lived on the bayou. By the time I came along, she lived in Phoenix, but the bayou sounded good to me. Romantic, with lightning bugs and people floating lazily by in low boats they pushed along the glassy water with sticks. They’d touch the brims of their hats and nod their hellos so as not to break the silence. It’d be so quiet, except for the squeak of my rocking chair, the birds and the bugs, and the swishing of those boats as they slid on by.
Back to the Biscuits
Anyway, back to the biscuits. Mamaw’s biscuits were legendary in the family. I could eat four or six of them at a time, slathered with butter and grape jelly. If I could get away with it, that is. Those biscuits were better than candy. Unfortunately, I never got her biscuit recipe. I don’t know if my southern buttermilk biscuits can compete. I’d never presume to set my recipe up against Mamaw’s, but it’s pretty darn good, if I do say so. Pretty. Darn. Good. I try not to eat four or six, but it’s hard, you know? Real hard.
These biscuits are flaky and tender and have just enough crunch on the edges to make you hope there are biscuits in heaven. There must be, right? Especially, with Mamaw up there. Eat them with butter and honey alongside fried chicken for dinner or smear them with butter and jelly for breakfast. Or, go all out and smother them with sausage or hamburger gravy for southern comfort a mile long. They work well under sweet or savory circumstances. They’re so easy to “whup” up, you’ll never want to buy canned biscuits, again.
Precursor to Biscuits
Back in the day, biscuits evolved from hardtack. Hardtack was simply a baked mixture flour and water, and sometimes salt. It kept well and was eaten during long voyages on ships, while marching through the woods towards battle, or rolling around the prairie in a covered wagon for months on end. Hardtack and salt pork were staples in situations like this where fresh food was hard to come by or preserve. Hardtack kept people alive, but it didn’t do much for their teeth. That’s why they softened it by frying it, dipping it in coffee, or crumbling it up in soup.
Luckily, wars end, ships land, pioneers get to where they’re going, and biscuits are born. By adding fat, usually lard, to the flour and salt mixture, replacing the water with milk or buttermilk, and using a chemical leavening agent cooks turned hardtack into the biscuits we know in America today. The original recipes did not contain sugar. If they did, it was in small amounts. I like to use a small amount of sugar, because it gives the biscuits that nice, delicate crunch on the outside and, of course, adds a tad bit of sweetness to play off of the salt.
- Medium bowl
- Large baking sheet
- Parchment paper (optional)
- Measuring utensils
- Two-inch biscuit cutter or small glass
How to Make Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
This recipe is super easy, but there are two main points to remember when making these biscuits. First, you must keep the butter cold. The butter pieces in the dough create steam and, therefore, flakiness. Secondly, don’t overwork the dough. Mix just until the dough comes together and there are no dry bits of flour left in it.
So, let’s get started. Preheat your oven to 425° F / 218° C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, if using. Gather your tools and ingredients. Leave the butter and buttermilk in the fridge until you’re ready for them. Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl. Take the butter out and shred it quickly with a cheese grater into the flour mixture. Dispurse the butter evenly.
Next, add the buttermilk and mix with your hands until all of the flour is incorporated. The dough should be lightly tacky, but not stick to your hands. If it’s too dry, add a tad bit of buttermilk. Too wet? Add a sprinkle of flour. Quickly press the dough into a ball. You don’t want to melt the butter with your hands.
Place the ball on a floured surface and press it with your hands until it’s about a half an inch thick. Using the biscuit cutter, cut as many biscuits as you can out of the dough and place them on the baking sheet. Make another ball of the left over dough, press it down, and cut the rest of the biscuits out of it. I get about 9 – 10 biscuits from this recipe.
Leave about 2 inches or so between the biscuits. Place them on a middle rack in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until the tops are lightly brown. Serve warm.
Easy peasy! These Southern Buttermilk Biscuits are awesome covered with US Army Hamburger Gravy (SOS).