Sep 27

A taste of the South : Buttermilk Biscuits

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I bake goodies for the weekly Tuesday meeting at R’s office. This week I was told that one of their staff members would be leaving, and this Tuesday would be her last. So on occasions like this I usually give the opportunity for that person to make a request ~ and she wanted Scones. 


Now for years I have always wondered what the difference was between a ‘Scone’ and a ‘Biscuit’. All I knew was that scones came from the British Isles, and a biscuit originates from that glorious collection of states in America known as the South. But that’s where my knowledge ends.



So I did some reading up on the internet and I was quite surprised with the results : they are pretty much the same!! But the English obviously have to make everything slightly more posh than everybody else, so here is the best explaination I came across on the internet.


Opinions vary on this question.  Most sources avoid the question completely, referring to both as kinds of Quick Bread.

In the book Baking With Julia , based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan says that “[Scones] are made in a manner similar to biscuits and, in fact, share biscuits’ buttery-layered texture, but their name, their shape, and the fact that they’re served with tea rather than gravy, lift them to the level of fancier fare.”

A closer look, however, suggests that the difference is not quite so superficial.  Scones tend to be richer, frequently including both eggs and cream in the recipe, though not always.  Some biscuit recipes will enrich the dough with eggs, but use milk or buttermilk instead of cream.  Scones also use a bit more liquid than regular biscuits, which should make them a bit more cake-like in their consistency. While biscuit recipes may or may not call for sugar, scones typically use sugar, but not as much as sweetened biscuits.”

Read more at KitchenSavvy: KitchenSavvy: Scones vs. Biscuits http://www.kitchensavvy.com/journal/2005/08/scones_vs_biscu.html



So there you have it, the difference between the two are, at best, subtle. All I know is they taste FANTASTIC whatever they are called.



My dilemma became apparent all too quickly when realisation hit that I have never made a successful biscuit /scone in my life! The last time I tried them they came out flat, looking like buttery dinner rolls. I came away from that experience as deflated as the sad looking circles of dough on my baking tray. Had I over worked them? Were they too wet? Not enough rising agents? So many questions but too few answers. So I left them and I worked on other things that I knew worked right off the bat …. like no-bake cheesecakes, for instance.



So when I was asked to make scones as a request I secretly cringed and curled my toes ~ the memory of the last failed attempt being still too fresh in my mind. But I was up for a challenge and I did some research and watched various youtube videos on how to make these fickle little things. To my dismay almost every single video had a different version on the recipe and suggested their own personal method of ensuring they came out nice and tall, crispy on the outside and flakey on the inside. I was beside myself.



I was close to losing hope when I came across Martha Stewart’s recipe for Buttermilk Biscuits and I decided that that was the way to go. Her recipe was quick, easy and fuss free. Then I came across chef John Mitzewich’s method of moulding the dough once it was turned out onto the kitchen bench. Check it out at FoodWishes.com. By the way, I have been following chef John for a few years now and I love his videos.



So what he did was to empty out the dough onto the benchtop, pat it into a rectangle and then fold it in on itself in thirds, much like how one would do if one was making puff pastry. I never thought of that before!! Who knew? I was always told that the golden rule was to never overwork the dough …. and this looked like it would. But to my surprise my biscuits came out tall, flakey and layered; as if it had come from a bakery. The man is a genius! I must admit I was very skeptical and my confidence levels were low.



My other dilemma was the fact that I do not own a food processor (*writes it down on this years Christmas wishlist). Well I have a small chopper-machine-thingy that holds all of 500 mls of fluid. Inside my head I was screaming, “… but Martha Stewart said for best results pulse in a food processor!!” So I did, but in four separate batches. Sigh.






From this point on, everything went smoothly until of course came time for the dreaded buttermilk to be added to the mix, but I took a deep breath in and forged on. It took a great deal of will power to not stir up and incorporate all the loose flecks of flour and butter into the dough. A few stirs with a wooden spoon and then I turned it all out onto a floured surface. This is where Martha ends and chef John begins. So I followed his instructions and made several folds to my dough. At the end I did not roll out my dough as he does in his video because, surprise surprise …. I do not own a rolling pin either.



Anyway, so I adopt the pat down method and cut my biscuits out using a 2.5 inch round cutter. So far so good. I line them up on a silicone mat, a bit of buttermilk wash on the tops and I shove them in the oven, saying a prayer as I do so. The timer is set for 17 mins. Then I anxiously pace in and out of my kitchen, peering thru the oven glass and even sending some words of encouragement to the little bumps of dough inside.



At the 10 min mark I am rewarded with signs of success ~ the little darlings were getting higher and higher!! Woohoo! A sense of pride and accomplishment washes over me and I get online immediately to send a prelimenary report to R in the office.


What better way to have a biscuit / scone than to top it up with cream and jam.



When I got to the office I was pounced on by the girls, and soon there was four of them hovering over the containers, all anxious to have a taste. By right they should wait for the meeting to commence but they couldn’t wait 60 mins. Everyone grabbed a biscuit each and devoured it with French butter, jam and healthy dollops of whipped cream, which I also brought into the office with me. Well its the best feedback I suppose, when people tuck into one of your treats and want more.



Filled with inspiration and confidence now I think one day I would want to host an English tea party at our house and ask the girls over. Below is the recipe I used, inspired from a Martha Stewart video, but modified to my taste.



Buttermilk Biscuits (makes 12 – 15)

  • 440 g of plain all-purpose flour
  • 125 g very cold butter, cubed
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp fine granulated sugar
  • 370 mls cold buttermilk


  1. Preheat your oven to 220°C (425°F). Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
  2. Place all dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk thru about a dozen times to aerate the flour. This also eliminates the need to sift everything.
  3. Place half the flour into a food processor with all the butter, and pulse until you get a mixture that resembles course breadcrumbs. Empty this into the same mixing bowl with the other half of flour. Run your fingers thru this butter and flour mixture to even it out.
  4. Now pour in the buttermilk and stir it just until a dough comes together. Don’t mind the bits that are still loose and powdery.
  5. Turn everything out onto a floured surface and pat the dough into a rectangle. Then fold the long sides in on itself in thirds (refer to how chef John does it in his video). Do this several times coz what you are doing is creating layers of butter and flour.
  6. You may choose to roll out your dough at the end, but I didn’t. Cut out rounds that are about half an inch thick and place it on a lined baking tray. Brush on some extra buttermilk and pop it into a HOT oven, @ 220°C (425°F) for 15 – 17 mins.


These are best served still warm and fresh out of the oven. If you are from England or Australia you will enjoy them with butter, jam and cream. If you are looking for an American experience with these then go ahead and serve them up with a hearty stew or gravy. Either way, as I quote foodie guru Alton Brown, they are all “good eats”.  Until next time.





Permanent link to this article: http://foodflurries.com/savoury/a-taste-of-the-south-buttermilk-biscuits


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  1. sirbunnz

    These were bloody great! Big thanks to K at the office for the request, and to Viv for making them so delicious! 🙂

  2. Grace

    Hey, i’ve got a good failproof Nigella recipe if you want it..

  3. Claire

    *whispers….. chillie ham bread from R’s sister… *nudge nudge*

  4. Natalie

    The greatest scones recipe in the history of the world. Or at least the tastiest scones when made by the master herself! <3

    Now to locate Buttemilk in the shops around here and convince the Mr to practice baking…

    1. bubviv

      These are rather easy to make … but i recommend you start out with my 5-minute lemonade scones. That is even easier! Goodluck!

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