The key to making buttery soft biscuits is to keep the thickness of the dough and the baking time in balance. Baking for even one minute too long is enough to give you dry biscuits. You want to keep the dough nice and thick and pay super close attention to the baking time. You don't need to use cold butter and work into the flour until you get pea sized clumps, softened butter works just fine. More on this below.
The inspiration for this recipe comes from making Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day. When I made the soda bread this year, I followed the instructions that I had written down in prior years to the “T”. It came out really well, super soft and buttery and very much like a biscuit. It made me think that a biscuit recipe wouldn’t be all that different. So I took that recipe and made a few adjustments. They are really not all the different from each other. The big change that I made was to add a little bit more butter. I also adjusted the cooking time and temperature, and reduced the amount of baking powder.
After making dozens and dozens of biscuits here are a few things that I learned.
- The thickness of the dough and the time baking in the oven makes all the difference. These need to be in balance in order to get a buttery, moist biscuit. Even a minute too long in the oven can dry out the biscuits. So, watch it carefully. It’s just like cooking shrimp, one minute too long can ruin it.
- You do not need to use cold butter, softened is fine. This is contrary to everything that you will read about biscuits. I imagine that if you work in a restaurant or pride yourself on the best biscuits ever, that this can potentially be a helpful step to get extra flaky layers. But, like with making pie crust, if you’re making these up at home, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference, and in my book it’s not worth the extra effort. I have done it both ways, and really see no difference at all between using cold butter that you dice into small pieces and mix with the flour until you get pea-sized amounts and butter that is softened in the microwave. I still get a flaky biscuit either way.
- You also do not need to brush the tops with melted butter or an egg wash before baking. It’s an extra step that can be eliminated. It does not change the appearance of the biscuits all that significantly. (Though this does make a difference for pie crusts.)
- Don’t overmix the dough.
- Using a sharp knife or a biscuit cutter (with sharp bottom) does help. It allows the biscuits to rise by not sealing the edges when cutting into the dough.
- If using a biscuit cutter, press straight up and down, and do not twist, to avoid sealing the edges.
- Biscuits are best served immediately out of the oven, and at the latest on the day of baking.
- 6 tbsp butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups flour + ¼ cup
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- In a large mixing bowl, roughly combine the butter, egg, and buttermilk. I use a large spoon and break up the softened butter a little bit, while mixing the egg and buttermilk.
- Add the 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Stir until just combined.
- Fill a quarter cup measuring cup with flour, and set it aside. I use this flour to dust the counter and the dough. I will typically only use about half or even less than half of the quarter cup. Separating it out helps you see how much extra flour you are using which helps you to limit how much you are adding.
- Dust a sprinkle of flour on the counter and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough with flour and roughly shape into a ball. Then flatten out the ball of dough into a rectangle, ensuring that there’s a small dusting of flour underneath so that it does not stick. It should be an inch thick or even slightly thicker. If you have a ruler handy you can measure it.
- Using a biscuit cutter, or a sharp knife, cut out 6 biscuits, I use a 2 ¾ inch biscuit cutter.
- Place close together on a baking sheet. Having them close tougher will help them to rise.
- Bake at 375°F for 15-16 minutes.