I thought I made good biscuits, until I tried a biscuit recipe from a southern grandma that blew my mind! These light, fluffy, and easy buttermilk biscuits come together so quickly, you’ll wonder why you ever messed around with cutting cold butter into flour.
The buttermilk biscuit recipe that changed my baking life
Everything I ever learned about making biscuits was wrong.
A few weeks ago I watched this biscuit how-to video by an absolutely charming southern grandma named Brenda Gantt, and it flipped everything I knew about making biscuits on its head.
She doesn’t use a mixing bowl
I mean, first of all, she mixes the dough for her biscuits in the bowl she keeps her flour in. I have had endless conversations in the past couple of weeks about how that works, and why she doesn’t have bugs in her flour, or flour that’s gone bad. But if you watch closely, it really does appear that every bit of buttermilk and Crisco is picked up at the end, leaving nothing but pristine flour. Plus, you don’t have a bowl to wash!
And even if a little bit of something did get left in the bowl, I bet she uses that flour up pretty quickly. She mentions in the video that she has two different kinds of flour: White Lily self-rising, and regular White Lily. I have, at last count, fifteen different kinds. If I left bits of anything in my flour, by the time I got around to using it again it would be rancid.
She does everything by feel, no measurements
That’s, like, the exact opposite of how I bake. With cooking I get a little more free-wheeling, but with baking I like to be precise!
She doesn’t use butter
I’d never made biscuits without butter before. I’ve done a lot of experimenting with cookies and pie crusts using butter vs. Crisco, but I always thought that biscuits needed all butter. Boy, was I wrong.
Crisco definitely gives you a different taste than butter (I need to try these with butter-flavor Crisco), but it also gives you a much lighter, fluffier biscuit!
She mashes everything together
There’s no cutting in of fat and flour, and then adding the liquid and tossing gently. Nope, she just mashes the Crisco together with the buttermilk, gradually mixing in the flour. So much easier than using a pastry blender!
She puts her biscuits close together, in a cast iron griddle
Brenda bakes her biscuits on a cast iron griddle, not a baking sheet. This makes a lot of sense. I had been putting my baking pan on top of an extra baking pan, which helped the bottom not to get too dark. But since cast iron is going to heat up even slower than a cookie sheet, it helps the bottoms stay nice and light.
She bakes at a really high temp
As Brenda says, “They wouldn’ta put 500 degrees on there if they hadn’t wanted you to use it, now right? The quicker it cooks, the tenderer your biscuits are.” And here I thought I’d been cooking mine too high at 450!
My attempt at Brenda’s easy biscuit recipe
Where to find White Lily flour
Of course I had to try it! But there was one major problem: I didn’t have any White Lily flour.
Now, Brenda doesn’t make a big deal about using White Lily self-rising flour at all. Where she lives it’s probably everywhere. But I’ve never ever seen it in a store in the northeast. And southern bakers go on and on about how it’s just the best flour out there.
A friend suggested that 2/3 all-purpose flour mixed with 1/3 cake flour gives you a pretty good substitute for White Lily, and I will probably try that at some point and do some comparisons. But I needed White Lily Self Rising, so if I substituted I would also have to approximate self-rising flour. I really just wanted to try this with the real thing.
Years ago I looked for it on Amazon, and couldn’t even find it there. So, I gave up my search. Until I saw this video.
I had to use a mixing bowl
I couldn’t make myself mix the dough in my big container of White Lily flour. I just couldn’t!! But now that I have a lot more of that precious flour on hand, I might try it at some point. I have to work up the courage.
Everything else went just like she said. I didn’t have a cast iron griddle, but I did have part of a cast iron Dutch oven, which had fairly low sides, so I used that.
I’ve since ordered an inexpensive cast iron griddle, because I really do think that the lower side will make even better biscuits. I’ll let you know.
I had to figure out the measurements
Remember, Brenda does everything by feel. The reason that works especially well for this recipe is that she’s allowing the dough to pick up just as much flour as it needs, and leaving the rest in the bowl. Since I was too chicken to mix my dough in the bowl, I needed some measurements to start with. So, I used the ones on the back of the White Lily bag.
After lots more batches I determined that I needed a bit more flour than the bag said, but not much. I just don’t like working with dough that’s super sticky. It was sticking to my biscuit cutters.
Brenda’s dough is ready to go out of the bowl—she just pats it down and starts cutting. But since I’m not doing her flour bowl method (yet!), I knead it a few times after I take it out of the bowl, to get a little more flour in there.
The best homemade biscuits I’ve ever made
That first batch was amazing!! I ate one hot out of the oven, and then went back for a second. I ate them plain. They didn’t need a thing.
They were light, they were fluffy, and the bottoms were perfect!!
(Have I mentioned that I’m on Weight Watchers? That first batch was six points per biscuit and worth every one!!)
The only little quibble I had was that I thought they needed some salt. I like things salty. I thought that maybe brushing some salted butter on top would take care of it, but I also really wanted to add a bit to the dough itself. And, I wanted to try it out in the higher-sided cast iron pans I had, the eight-inch pans, because I thought that people would be more likely to have those than a griddle.
So, I got to work.
Last Sunday I made five batches of biscuits, and then a couple more on Monday and Tuesday to make sure that all of the changes I’d made added up to something that could be reproduced time after time.
What my biscuit experiments found
A little more salt works great
For my second batch I added half a teaspoon of salt. Self-rising flour already has some salt, but I wasn’t sure how much. If you google recipes for self-rising flour, they’re pretty much split between adding 1/4 teaspoon and 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour. Since I was starting with two cups of flour, I decided to add 1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt.
I think that was the perfect amount…for me. Like I said, I like food really salty. And when I bit into that batch, I could definitely taste the salt! But I know they would be too salty for normal people, so I dialed it back in subsequent batches. Combined with a brush of melted salted butter, they’re perfect.
A high-sided cast iron pan does not work as well
For the third batch, I baked them in my eight-inch cast iron pan. My other two batches had baked perfectly in the lower-sided pan in twelve minutes, but after twelve minutes in the higher pan, the sides of the biscuits looked a little doughy. I baked them for another two minutes, and the sides looked right, but the tops were too brown. They also didn’t rise as high as the first two batches.
I think the high sides of the pan protect the biscuits a bit too much, while allowing the tops to cook too fast.
So, I tried another batch, number four, and I made these biscuits shorter (I’d done the previous ones about an inch high, and I made these a little less than 3/4-inch). The tops didn’t get too dark like the batch before, but they also didn’t rise as much as the first and second (taking into account the shorter starting height).
These were by no means bad biscuits, but they weren’t the light, fluffy biscuits I’d made before.
The bottom of a cast iron pan works a little better
For batch number five, I got the genius idea of flipping the eight-inch pan over. I figured the bottoms would still be protected, but the sides would get the heat they needed. And I think I was pretty much right.
The only problem was, the biscuits leaned outwards a bit. I think the little bit of support the biscuits get on a low-sided pan as they start to rise is enough to help them rise up straight, while not blocking them from the heat too much.
But if you don’t have a low-sided pan, I think the upside-down pan is your best bet. Just be aware that a bit of Crisco might drip off of your pan and into your oven.
I want to try this again with the bottom of a larger pan, just because you can’t fit many biscuits on an eight-inch pan. Perhaps with a larger pan and more rings of biscuits, the inner biscuits wouldn’t lean, and you’d get some straight biscuits? Making the biscuits shorter would also probably help. If I try this I’ll update the post.
Should you brush on butter before or after baking?
I didn’t do a separate batch for this test, I just brushed some butter on half of one batch before they went into the oven, and then brushed the other half when they came out.
There was no difference in taste, but there was a difference in how they looked. The biscuit on the left went into the oven with no butter and was brushed afterwards, while the one on the right had butter brushed on before baking. I think the butter-less one looks much better. It has a smoother top. And they both tasted great, so go with what looks better and brush the butter on after baking!
Of course, if you just want more butter flavor, and don’t care as much about how they look, you can brush some on both before and after baking.
Don’t forget to make a biscuit for your dog!
I don’t have a dog, but I did what Brenda said anyway and made a big biscuit out of the scraps, because I love using this mini cast iron pan!
Some additional tips for making southern biscuits:
Preheat your oven higher than you need
This isn’t just for biscuits. I do this for all baked goods. I preheat my oven 25-degrees higher than the recipe calls for, because the oven is going to lose some heat when you open it to put the food in. As soon as I close the oven door with the food inside, I reduce the temperature to what it’s supposed to be.
Always weigh ingredients
I don’t know how people bake without a food scale, I truly don’t. Not only is it faster and more accurate, but you’ll have fewer measuring cups and spoons to wash at the end. Plus, have you ever tried to measure something like Crisco in a measuring cup?
I highly recommend getting an Oxo scale. I own two and love them both.
I’ve put volume measurements in the recipe in case you don’t have a scale, but trust me on this one. Get a scale and up your baking game.
Keep your Crisco cold
I don’t care what Crisco recommends about keeping their shortening in your pantry. I keep mine in the fridge, so that it’s ready for baking. Who wants to wait for it to harden up?
Even though you’re smushing the Crisco into the buttermilk, it still helps to have everything cold. By the time you’re patting out the dough for the second time and it’s warmed up a bit, you’ll see the difference.
Don’t pat the dough out too many times
Try not to pat out your scraps of dough too many times. I can usually use most of the dough the first time I pat it out, and then fill the pan with the dough from the second time I pat it out. After that, you’re going to have a tougher biscuit. As Brenda says, “The longer you work ’em, the tougher they get.”
You can reduce your scraps by cutting out your circles of dough as close to the edges as possible, and as close to each other as possible.
Get eye-level with your dough
If you’re just looking at your biscuit dough from above, you might not know how high it really is, because the sides (where you’re putting a ruler, if you measure like I do) will almost always be a bit lower than the middle.
This dough looked like it was 3/4-inch high, until I got down to its level.
Sure, the very edges were 3/4-inch high, but most of the dough was an inch.
How high you make your biscuits is up to you, but measuring them helps you to be consistent once you find a height you like. That way, you’ll know that for your pan, at a certain height, you’ll get a certain number of biscuits.
Looking at Brenda’s finished biscuits I think I was making mine a lot higher than she was. Mine were all between 3/4-inch and 1-inch. I’m going to try a shorter batch when I get my new pan, maybe closer to 1/2-inch. She was definitely getting a lot more biscuits than I was, but in addition to being shorter I think she was using a smaller cutter than I was (at least for my big biscuits).
I love this particular ruler for baking, because it’s extra wide and tall (although I wish it had centimeter markings). Really any ruler will do, though, as long as you can put the edge down flat on your counter or cutting board, and the flat part starts at zero.
Smaller biscuits mean fewer scraps
The smaller you make the biscuits, the fewer scraps you’ll have left over, and the closer you’ll be able to get the biscuits to each other in the pan. I prefer to make the biscuits bigger if I’m going to use them for breakfast sandwiches, but smaller if they’ll just be eaten with some butter and jam, like Brenda was. And hers looked pretty small.
And you don’t have to stick with one size for an entire batch! You can make some narrower and some wider, as long as they’re all the same height. I have this set of biscuit cutters, and I usually use the biggest one and the next-biggest one.
More tests are coming
I’m not done testing. (I’m never done testing!) I want to try making these on a baking sheet, and then with non-White Lily flour. I want to try making my own biscuit recipe in a cast iron pan at 500 degrees, and then with White Lily flour, to see what changes.
This recipe works, but I still don’t understand if one part of it is more important than the other parts, or if you need to do all the parts of it in order to be successful. I will try to answer those questions for you!
But for now, just know that following these instructions, with these ingredients, you will make amazing biscuits.
- 255g (2 cups plus 2 tbsp) White Lily Self-Rising Flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup cold buttermilk, preferably full fat
- 48g (1/4 cup) cold Crisco shortening, plus more for pan
- 14g (1 tbsp) salted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 525°F with a rack in the middle position
- Spread some Crisco on the bottom of a 9-10" cast iron griddle
- In a medium bowl, sift the self-rising flour with the salt, then make a well in the middle
- Pour the buttermilk into the well, then add the Crisco shortening
- Squeeze the Crisco and buttermilk together with one hand, trying to get rid of all the lumps of Crisco, gradually bringing more of the flour into the mixture as you go, until all of the flour is incorporated (the dough will be sticky)
- Wash and dry your hands
- Sprinkle a little flour on your work surface, and rub some on your hands too
- Grab the dough out of the bowl and gently knead it a few times, adding a small amount of flour if it's still very sticky (a little sticky is good)
- Pat gently until about 1-inch thick and cut out with a biscuit cutter, flouring the cutter after each cut and rubbing off any stuck dough
- Place each piece of dough in the prepared cast iron griddle, starting at the outside edge and then filling in the middle, placing the biscuits so that they're touching
- Once you've cut all you can out of the dough, gently knead what's left a few more times, and pat it out again, cutting the rest; try to only do this twice
- If you have dough left over, you can save it for something else, or make one big biscuit and bake it on a separate pan
- Put the pan in the oven on the center rack and immediately reduce the heat to 500°F
- Bake for 12 minutes, or until tops are golden and the sides look dry
- Brush the tops with melted butter and serve hot
If you don't have a cast iron griddle or some other cast iron pan with low sides, turn a cast iron pan over and use the bottom as your baking surface.
A 2-3/4-inch biscuit cutter will get you a good-size biscuit.
You can make shorter biscuits, too! I've patted the dough anywhere from 1/2-inch to 1-inch and it all worked well. I like them thinner for breakfast sandwiches, but taller for eating plain.
Weight Watchers Points
1 large biscuit is:
You can adjust the ingredients and the number of biscuit you make, and get updated points info for your particular plan, here: Southern Biscuits (for AmyEverAfter.com)
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White Lily Self Rising Bleached Flour - 80 oz
OXO 1157100 Good Grips 5 Lb Food Scale with Pull-Out Display,Black
Fiskars 3x18 Inch Acrylic Ruler (187640-1001)
RSVP International Endurance (BC-4) Round Biscuit Cutters - Stainless Steel, Set of 4 | Nest for Easy Storage | For Cutting Thick or Thin Dough | Professional | High Handle Arch
Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Griddle With Easy-Grip Handle, 10.5 Inch (Pack of 1), Black
Amount Per Serving Calories 92Total Fat 3gSaturated Fat 2gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 1gCholesterol 6mgSodium 314mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 0gSugar 1gProtein 2g
Nutritional information is an estimate only.