The love of biscuits runs deep in my family. Grandma June, my dad’s mom, was famous for her buttermilk biscuits. She mixed them up in a huge metal bowl and used a teacup of buttermilk for every two people eating. This was her way of making biscuits just for her and Grandpa Arla or for twenty people. It worked every time!

The closest biscuits I’ve ever made to my grandma’s are from the cookbook called, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. I was amazed that an Iranian woman from LA had a recipe so close to Grandma June’s. Buttermilk is the main feature of her recipe and gives them a delicious flavor.

I make baking powder biscuits and use whole milk, sweet milk as Grandma June called it, since I don’t keep buttermilk on hand. She would be a little disappointed to know this but it is what it is. If you are making buttermilk biscuits you need baking soda to react with the acid in the buttermilk. With whole milk you need to use baking powder. That’s the main difference in the world of biscuits.

Ultimate Biscuit Recipe

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut into slices
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cup whole milk

First thing is to preheat your oven to 450 degrees. You need a hot hot oven to bake biscuits. Now measure all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Once you have them all measured, stir them together with a fork and add the butter. I slice the butter when I add it because it’s easier to mix in that way. You can add the butter whole and break it up by hand if you want. Slicing it is easier for me.

Dry ingredients.
Dry ingredients mixed.
Butter and dry ingredients.

Rubbing in the Butter

Butter or a solid fat like lard is what makes biscuits or pastry flakey. When it’s rubbed into the flour mixture and then rolled out it forms layers. In the hot oven the butter melts and the water turns into steam which puffs up the layers of dough. The butterfat melts into the dough and makes it rich and tender.

I start rubbing in the butter by breaking up the sliced of butter and mixing them with the flour. After all the butter is broken down into small pieces I rub handfuls of the mixture between my palms. This breaks the butter down into smaller pieces and distributes it evenly in the flour. I leave some pieces of butter in pea-size chunks but most of it is mixed through the dry ingredients.

Breaking up butter.
Rubbing in butter for biscuits.
Rubbing in butter for biscuit dough.

I aim for a coarse and pebbly texture. The smaller pieces melt in the oven to make the biscuits tender while the larger ones give them the flakey layers. A trick with biscuits is to work quickly and not let the butter get too warm. You want a dough more like pastry not cookie dough.

Adding Milk and Mixing

Once you are happy with the butter step it’s time to add the milk. Make a hole in the center of the flour and butter mixture and pour in 1 cup of milk.

Dry ingredients and butter for biscuit dough.
Adding milk.

Quickly stir with a fork, scraping flour in from the edges, to bring the dough together. If the dough isn’t coming together or is too dry, add a couple tablespoons of milk and mix gently and quickly. Look for pockets of dry flour on the bottom of the bowl and mix that in. You should be able to bring the dough together in a rough ball without lots of dry flour left in the bowl. The goal is a ball of dough that stays together but isn’t too sticky. If you add too much milk then sprinkle a tablespoon or two of flour over the dough and give it a quick mix.

Rough mix for biscuit dough.
Biscuit dough in a ball.

Patting or Rolling Out the Dough

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and gently pat or roll out the dough. I just pat it out by hand since my hands are already messy and why wash a rolling pin if you don’t have to. Be careful to not stretch or work the dough, just pat it out from the center. Stretching the dough will activate the gluten and make the biscuits tough.

I aim for an inch thick disc of dough since I like nice tall biscuits. You can make them as thin or thick as you want. Of course if you make them thinner you will end up with more biscuits which may be what you need.

Also consider how tall your biscuit cutter is. I have this set that has about an inch of metal cutter and then the plastic part. You can’t cut a super thick dough with that type of cutter. Since I’m a biscuit nerd and kitchen tool collector I have a set of tall straight metal biscuit cutters too. In a pinch you can use a straight sided glass or a tin can for this job.

Patting out biscuit dough.
Patting out biscuits.
Biscuit dough ready to cut.

Cutting the Dough and Rerolling

With your biscuit cutter, cut straight down through the dough and try not to twist the cutter. You may need to dip the cutter in flour it’s sticking to the dough. I try to add as little flour as possible but sometimes you need a bit extra.

Cut the biscuits as close to each other as you can and set each one on a baking sheet. You know I’m lining my sheet with parchment paper since it’s my favorite kitchen trick! If you want softer biscuits set them closer together so their sides touch. For crispier edges set them farther apart. I like the contrast of crispy edges and soft tender centers so I set mine farther apart to bake.

Now take the scraps and gently press them back into a rough ball and pat out again. Cut as many biscuits from this as you can. Every time you work the dough it will get a bit tougher so I aim for one or two times of rerolling. Then I just shape the last little bit into a circle by hand.

Cutting biscuits.
Biscuit dough scraps to reroll.
Biscuits ready to bake.

Baking Your Biscuits

At this point you have a couple of options. Usually I’m in a bit of a hurry and put the biscuits straight into the hot oven. Grandma June always brushed the tops of each one with a little bacon grease to make them extra delicious. I don’t typically have bacon grease around so I’ll brush them with soft butter when I’m in the mood to mess with it. However they are perfect just baked plain.

Baked biscuits.

Bake the biscuits, brushed with butter or not, for 15 minutes in the hot oven. Check to see if they are golden brown, especially the bottoms. You don’t want pale under baked biscuits. After all the effort to make them, be sure they are properly baked! Serve them straight away with sausage gravy or butter and jam or honey. Extra points if you serve them in a bowl or basket with a pretty napkin over them!

Biscuits on a plate.