This recipe is the product of years spent in pursuit of the perfect biscuit, a goal I chased through conversations and cooking with various biscuit pros throughout the South. Everyone has their own unique method to get their biscuit as flaky and rich as possible, and this biscuit combines tips and tricks from several chefs I’ve encountered.
Technical tip: Make sure you have everything prepped beforehand. This recipe moves quick and you want to keep the butter cold, so you want to make sure you have everything you need before you get started.
Swap options: Use pork lard instead of butter for a true Southern flavor.
Grate the butter on the coarsest side of a grater and spread it in a layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until all the pieces are very cold.
Before you make the dough, be sure you’ve measured your ingredients and line up all your tools (rolling pin, bench scraper, flour for dusting) since it’s crucial that the butter stay as cold as possible while you work. Once you get started, you have to move quickly, and every second counts.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Scrape the butter into a bowl and use a spatula to toss it as you would a salad, until every piece of butter is coated. Pour in the buttermilk and stir the dough until it forms a scraggly mess. It will still be incredibly crumbly, but you want to get all the flour moistened.
Flour a work surface and your hands. Tip out the dough and press it into a 12- by 9-inch rectangle; it will be crumbly and unruly, but a bench scraper helps to pull it all together. As best as you can, swoop the scraper or a spatula under the dough to lift it up, fold it into thirds, as you would fold a letter, and push in the sides to reinforce and keep them straight. It’ll be so crumbly you’ll think it’s impossible that it could come together. Trust that it will and keep working quickly.
Flip the dough upside down and rotate it a quarter-turn. Flour your rolling pin and the top of the dough and, with firm, even strokes, roll it back out into a 12- by 9-inch rectangle. Fold it again into thirds, then flip and rotate it. Dust with a bit of flour if the butter ever wants to stick, and make sure your rolling pin stays clean.
Repeat this process of rolling and folding one last time. Each time, it will cohere a bit more.
Finally, rotate the dough and roll it into a slightly smaller rectangle, about 10 by 8 inches, and square off the edges so they’re neat and firm. Cut it evenly, either into 6 hefty biscuits or 12 smaller biscuits, pressing straight down with your bench scraper or knife – and not in a sawing motion, so you don’t damage the layers of butter and flour. Refrigerate the biscuits on a baking sheet for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 450 F with a rack in the upper-middle position. Brush or spoon a bit of buttermilk on the tops of the biscuits, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes. Wrap them in a clean dish towel to keep them warm and serve fresh from the oven if you can. If that’s not possible, split and toast them before eating. Save leftover biscuits in a zip-top bag for up to 3 days.