While there are lots of biscuit recipes out there that call for tediously grating frozen butter or folding the dough like laminated pastry dough in an effort to boost the flaky layers, I like my grandmother’s method here the best. It’s uncomplicated, made by hand and always results in perfect flaky, buttery biscuits. Buy buttermilk for these biscuits; it freezes wonderfully and, once thawed, can be used the same as it can fresh. If making biscuits by hand is intimidating, you can make them in a stand mixer just as easily (see Variations, below).
Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside a dinner fork and 2 1/2-inch round cutter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add the butter and using the tips of your fingers, rub and crush the butter cubes into the flour repeatedly until they resemble small crumbles with a few larger pieces of butter remaining. It should take you about 3 minutes of steadily rubbing the butter into the flour to get there.
Form a well in the center of the mixture with your fingers then pour in the buttermilk. Using the fork, slowly push in the flour from the side of the bowl, working in a circular motion, until a shaggy wet dough begins forming. Once you see no more loose pools of buttermilk in the bowl, dump the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and use your hands to quickly but gently pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick sheet.
Lift up one side of the sheet and roll it up loosely like a jelly roll, letting it come to rest seam side down. Gently flatten the dough again into a 1-inch-thick round and, using the floured cutter, cut out rounds from the dough, spaced as close together as possible and re-flouring the cutter as needed to keep the dough from sticking to it. Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, spaced at least 1/2 inch apart. Re-roll the scraps at least twice to get 18 biscuits, keeping in mind that the biscuits cut from the rerolled dough will be slightly less tender than the ones from the first round.
Cover the sheet of biscuits with plastic wrap and place the biscuits in the freezer until firm, at least 2 hours, before transferring to a ziptop plastic bag. Do not bake these biscuits right after you make them. Frozen biscuits rise better and are fluffier, so plan ahead and do not skip this step.
When ready to bake your biscuits, heat the oven to 425 degrees. You can bake all your biscuits or just two; either way, place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet so they touch at their edges. Use a pastry brush or your finger to brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with buttermilk, then bake until the biscuits are golden brown and risen, 20 to 25 minutes.
While still piping hot from the oven, split the biscuits like an English muffin and place a pat of butter in the center of each. Let stand for 1 minute to melt the butter, then serve the biscuits immediately, drizzled with syrup or spread with cold fruit jam.
If the idea of pressing butter into flour makes you nervous and you have a stand mixer, you can make biscuits with it. Simply combine the dry ingredients and butter cubes in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix on low speed until the butter breaks down into pea-size crumbles. Then, with the mixer on low speed, pour in the buttermilk and continue mixing just until there are no more loose pools of buttermilk visible. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface as in Step 3, then proceed with the recipe.