Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Buttermilk biscuits

I think I must have been a member of the CWA (Country Women's Association) in a past life. How else to explain the fact that there are four different homemade jams in my fridge at the moment? First there was cherry. Then came plum, after the cherry was such a success. And what happened next was Tasmania. Two separate trips, two different jams with apricots foraged from a backyard tree in January and blackberries from the side of the road in March. So. Four jars of jam, and more in the cupboard. It seemed like as good a reason as any to make biscuits. Not biscuits as the CWA would know them, but as found deep in the American south. There, they serve them with fried chicken and smothered in gravy, but I've always been fond of them as a breakfast food, and as a gloriously flaky, lightly leavened, subtly sweet... vehicle for jam.

So on Easter Saturday, the day in between hot cross buns and chocolate, I had a jam gathering: a tray of buttermilk biscuits, an array of jams, and a combined effort on the quiz in the back of the Good Weekend

Biscuits must be in the zeitgeist at the moment. Everywhere I turn online, people seem to be making them. Ordinarily I would have tried these or perhaps given these a go, but when it came down to it, I'm loyal to my original recipe which comes from the Macrina Bakery in Seattle, one of my favourite places in all the world and no better authority on a baked good. Good being the operative word.

Buttermilk biscuits
Recipe from my well-loved copy of Leslie Mackie's Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook

If by some miracle you have some of these left over (or you want to make a batch well in advance of your own jam gathering) know that they freeze incredibly well. Just wrap them individually in tinfoil, and pop them straight from the freezer (still wrapped) into a 350 deg F oven for 15 minutes. No buttermilk in the fridge? Make your own by combining one cup of milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar and letting it sit til the mixture curdles (five minutes or even less).

Makes 6 biscuits

2 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon dried yeast
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup buttermilk
egg wash made with 1 egg and 1 teaspoon water
coarse raw sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, combine warm water and yeast. Mix with a whisk to dissolve yeast, then let sit for 5 minutes while yeast blooms.
  • Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with your hands to combine. Drop pieces of shortening into the bowl. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in shortening until it's evenly distributed and the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Add the yeast water and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon just until dough dough comes together. Take care not to overmix.
  • Coat your hands with flour and pull dough from bowl onto a floured work surface. Pat dough into a rectangle, approximately 9 x 5 inches, positioning dough so that the long side is facing you. The dough will be sticky at first, so keep flouring your hands and the work surface as needed. To achieve the flaky, layered texture of these biscuits, it's important to give the dough a series of tri-folds: fold the dough into thirds, as you would a letter, folding the left third over the centre third first, then folding the right third on top. Sprinkle the work surface with flour and flatten the folded dough into another 9 x 5 inch rectangle. Follow the same folding and flattening procedure twice more, ending with a rectangle 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick.
  • Cut dough into 6 equal rectangles (2 1/2 x 3 inch) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush biscuits with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse raw sugar. Bake on centre rack of oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom. Let cool on baking sheet for ten minutes, then break open and spread thickly with jam. 


  1. Wow! I'll have to try these. Such an unusual recipe with the shortening and yeast.

  2. Yes! This is a perfect breakfast with coffee! Alas, no home made jam in my fridge... maybe if you could post a recipe for this summer here... ?:)

  3. Could you please confirm is vegetable shortening - Copha in this receipe?

  4. Yes! Copha/vegetable shortening is right Karen.