I knew that I’d miss southern biscuits when I moved to Australia because their interpretation of the word ‘biscuit’ is a cookie. The closest thing that I can find to a true southern biscuit here is a scone, but even they aren’t the same since they are sort of a cross between a dinner roll and a biscuit and have sugar in them.
I’ve resorted to making my own here so I thought I’d share the best recipe that I’ve found from Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, North Carolina – just down the street from my alma mater the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. On a recent trip back to Chapel Hill my friends and I decided to try out the biscuit at Neal’s deli to see how it stacked up against it’s local rival, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen – and boy it did. The secret to their biscuits is using quality local butter and buttermilk from the Chapel Hill Creamery down the road.
There are a couple of secrets that I have learned to making good biscuits:
- Use shortening and butter. Using butter alone will not achieve the fluffy texture that you need.
- Freeze the dry mixture before incorporating the buttermilk – the colder the butter the fluffier the biscuit because cold butter will release more air than room temperature butter which creates pockets of air inside the biscuit.
- Folding the dough like a letter (as described in the recipe below) creates layers within the biscuit that are necessary to achieving the desired flakiness.
Neal’s Deli Buttermilk Biscuits recipe adapted from Food & Wine
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (or bi-carb soda in Australia)
- 2 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter—3 tablespoons thinly sliced, 2 tablespoons melted
- 1 cup buttermilk (can be made by mixing 1 tbsp white vinegar with 1 cup plain milk)
Preheat the oven to 475F (250C). Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. In a large bowl, whisk the 2 cups of flour with the salt, baking powder and baking soda. Using a pastry blender, cut the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Using your fingers, rub in the sliced butter, leaving large flakes of coated butter. Freeze the mixture for about 15 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk until a raggy dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and press or roll into a 9 in. by 7 in. rectangle, about ¾ inch thick. Fold the rectangle in thirds like a letter, then fold the rectangle in half to make a little package. Press or roll out the dough to a 9-by-7 inch rectangle again.
Repeat the folding process once more, then roll the dough out one more time to a 9-by-7-inch rectangle. Using a 3 ½ inch round cutter, stamp out 4 biscuits. Pat the scraps together and stamp out 2 more biscuits.
Arrange the biscuits on a large baking sheet and brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake for about 14 minutes, shifting the baking sheet halfway through, until the tops and bottoms are golden and the biscuits are cooked through.