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TIP OF THE DAY: Bake Buttermilk Biscuits

Mmm, hot biscuits. Photo © Robyn Mac |


Centuries ago, cooks discovered that the acid in buttermilk reacts with baking soda to produce carbon dioxide bubbles. Buttermilk became a must-have ingredient to create light, tender, highest-rising biscuits, breads and muffins, pancakes and layer cakes.

It’s Sunday and it’s National Biscuit Month. What more worthy activity is there than baking a batch of biscuits for breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Up until the mid-20th century, many families who had cooks (or very energetic moms) looked forward to hot buttermilk biscuits at the breakfast table. This recipe, from specialty food doyenne Sarabeth Levine, goes equally well with fresh butter or with Sarabeth’s delicious jams and preserves (we’re particularly fond of her blood orange marmalade).

Do you remember this tongue-twister from childhood: A batch of biscuits/a batch of mixed biscuits/a biscuit mixer? Say it several times quickly.

Then, check out this recipe and whip up some fragrant, tender biscuits.




  • 3¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ inch sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½ inch thick cubes
  • 1½ cups buttermilk (regular or nonfat/skim)

    1. PREHEAT. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.

    2. SIFT & MIX. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Add the butter. Mix on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces of butter. Add the buttermilk, mixing in just until the dough barely comes together.

    3. KNEAD. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until the dough is smooth. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and roll it out to ¾ inch thick or slightly thicker.

    4. CUT. Using a 2-¼ inch fluted biscuit cutter (you can substitute a round cookie cutter), dipping the cutter into flour between cuts, cut out the biscuits and place 1 inch apart on the pan. Gently press the scraps together (do not over handle the dough). Repeat rolling and cutting.

    5. BAKE. Bake until the biscuits are well risen and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm. To reheat the biscuits, wrap in aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.

    Makes 16 biscuits.



    Many people who buy buttermilk for baking lament that it only comes in quarts, not pints. A cup is generally enough for any recipe. Buttermilk is expensive.

    But you don’t need to waste the leftover buttermilk.

    Drink It

    If you like yogurt or kefir, buttermilk is has similar flavors. If you don’t like yogurt, you have friends who might appreciate the buttermilk.

    Freeze It

    In our recent article on other things to do with your ice cube tray, we suggested freezing buttermilk.

  • Measure how many tablespoons of liquid go into each compartment of your ice cube tray (you don’t need to fill the compartments to the brim, as with ice cubes).
  • Then, fill with the leftover buttermilk. When it’s frozen, remove the cubes to a plastic freezer bag and mark the tablespoon equivalent on the bag.

    A jar of Sarabeth’s preserves is a treat for biscuits and a welcome small gift. Here, peach apricot preserves. Photo courtesy Sarabeth.


  • The next time you need buttermilk for a recipe, it defrost on the counter or in the microwave. Four tablespoons equal 1/4 cup, so you may want to freeze in two-tablespoon portions.
    Substitute It
    Buttermilk can also be substituted for whole milk or skim milk in many recipes, from baked goods, frozen desserts and puddings to sauces and soups.
    Use It In A Marinade Or Breading

    The acidic properties of buttermilk make it a tenderizing and flavorful marinade. Hunters soak fresh venison in buttermilk overnight to reduce the gamy taste.

    Also use it to adhere the breading for fish, meat and poultry.
    Try Other Recipes

    There are scores of recipes where buttermilk’s richness is welcome.

  • For breakfast: biscuits, breads, muffins, scones, pancakes and waffles, soda breads and quick breads.
  • For dessert and snacks: banana bread, cookies, cobblers, coffee cake, pies, pound cake, salad dressing. You can bake fish fillets in buttermilk.
  • For dinner: baked chicken, baked fish (recipe in footnote) fried chicken.
    *BAKED FISH RECIPE. Ingredients for two portions: 1 pound cod or other white fish fillets, 1/2 cup sherry, 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill, 1 cup buttermilk (regular or nonfat), salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Preparation: Preheat oven to 350°F degrees. Add the sherry and mushrooms to a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sherry has evaporated. Place the fillets in a single layer in a baking dish and top with the mushrooms. Sprinkle the dill, salt and pepper. Pour the buttermilk over the fillets and bake for 20 minutes until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Vary the spices to your liking: for example, lemon or orange zest or chili flakes for heat.


    Unlike butter, for which it is named, buttermilk is low in calories. Like nonfat milk, nonfat (skim) buttermilk has 80 calories per cup and the same amount of protein, calcium, other minerals and vitamins as conventional milk.


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