Thursday, March 3, 2011

the very best whole wheat buttermilk biscuits

As far as I’m concerned, everything about a meal pales considerably in comparison to the golden topped, flaky buttery goodness of a homemade biscuit.

Best of all were the buttermilk biscuits made with love by mom, when I was a young girl.  Most everything my mother made was something to write home about, but what I remember best were her homemade biscuits.  Those irresistible biscuits were a fixture at our family table, alongside chowders, soups, rib roast and the once fashionable cornish game hens.  They magically emerged from the oven just as dinner was served and we ate them piping hot, slathered with generous pats of butter and thick creamed honey.

In retrospect, I can understand the significance behind mom’s biscuits.  There were were no bakeries in my island hometown.  I grew up on tasteless, spongy sliced whole wheat bread from the grocery shelves.  Mom baked bread from time to time but home baked biscuits were decadence and a welcome departure from the mundane. 

Never one to abide by the rules, yet staunchly in favor of tradition, I have made a few changes to the original recipe while remaining true to its essence.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again.  Whole wheat pastry flour is where it’s at.  It has a finer grind than traditional whole wheat flour and generally goes undetected as a white flour replacement.  I typically use three parts whole wheat, one part white flour with stellar results. 

Mom’s recipe called for shortening, which we now know is the devil, though back then it was a staple in most kitchens.  I stopped using the stuff a decade ago when a dietician friend cautioned against consuming hydrogenated oils.  She was clearly ahead of her time and I am grateful to have reaped the benefits of her forewarning.  When a recipe calls for it, I simply replace shortening with cold butter.  It does the trick and tastes a lot better, too.  Someday, I intend to make these biscuits with real lard, if I can get my hands on it. 

Buttermilk biscuits pair beautifully with roast chicken dinner or homemade soup, as mom often served them; of for breakfast, sidled up next to fried eggs and sizzling bacon.  However you eat them, be sure to serve them hot- straight from the oven with plenty of butter and honey.   


whole wheat buttermilk biscuits


yields 10 biscuits


1 – 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut in 1/4” pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk + additional 1/2 cup, as needed 



Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.  Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut cold butter into the mixture until it resembles pea-sized coarse crumbs.  It is imperative that the butter is cold and that the pieces of butter are visible.  These pieces create pockets of air during baking, resulting in lighter, flakier biscuits.


Make a well in the center of the mixture.  Pour in the buttermilk, stirring with a large fork until it just clings together.  If the dough is crumbly or too dry, add additional buttermilk, as needed.  Dough should be slightly sticky but not wet.  Do not over mix.  Dump the dough onto a flour surface.  With floured hands, gently pat and press the dough together.  Roll or pat the the dough to one inch thick.  Cut with a biscuit cutter or a glass that is 2 1/2” inches in diameter. 


Place biscuits one inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  For more rustic biscuits, place the cutouts close together in a nine inch cake pan.  This may increase baking time slightly.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, checking at 10 minutes to determine progress.  Tops will be light golden brown when the biscuits are ready.  I like to pull one biscuit apart to be sure it’s no longer doughy in the center.  Serve hot with plenty of butter and honey.


whole wheat ham and cheddar biscuits


These are a huge hit with children and adults, alike.  Simply fold in 3 ounces chopped ham and 3 ounces chopped cheddar cheese before adding the buttermilk.  Increase buttermilk to one cup.  Additional flour may be needed when patting or rolling out the dough.  Be careful not to overwork your dough or the biscuits will be tough.  Cut into 2 - 1/2 inch rounds and bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes.  They tend to bake faster than regular biscuits. 

Serve with fruit for a light lunch or hearty snack. 

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