For the past few years, I’ve subscribed to a straightforward biscuit-making method, learned from a pastry chef friend. (Sorry, Grandma!) First, I put a stick of butter in the coldest corner of the freezer. When I wake up the next morning, I grate that frozen butter into a bowl of White Lily self-rising flour, and then add enough buttermilk to turn the dry mix into a soft but foldable dough, handling all ingredients delicately to keep the butter cold and the biscuits flaky.
Carrie Morey disagrees with almost all of that. And she knows a few things about biscuitry. The founder of Charleston, South Carolina, company Callie’s Charleston Biscuits and proprietor of the restaurant Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit punches out hundreds of buttery rounds on a typical day at work. I visited her bakery recently to learn how she and her staff supply grocery stores all over the country with about a million biscuits each year.
(Disclaimer: Nearly every cook makes biscuits differently. I know that. Morey knows that. Some of her suggestions may strike readers as heresy, but they do yield tasty results.)
1. White Lily really is worth it. Morey’s biscuits start the same way mine do, with five-pound bags of self-rising flour from the most famous name in Southern baking. The company doesn’t sell the flour to her in bulk, or even offer a discount. In fact, she had to fight for the pallets of retail-priced bags that now come directly to her loading dock, and she still supplements her supply with trips to local grocery stores from time to time. She has tried other brands, but no other offers the high rise and buttery crumble of the Southern standard.
2. Don’t bother coddling the butter. Morey doesn’t freeze her butter. It comes directly out of the refrigerator, and she doesn’t worry that it melts as she pulls it into pieces and flakes it into the flour with her hands. She has tried the old freeze-and-grate trick, and she doesn’t think it’s worth the trouble. More important is the texture of the final mixture, which resembles coarse meal by the time she has finished incorporating the butter.
3. For extra heft, look beyond butter, lard, and shortening. While the holy trinity of biscuit fats is so canonized for a reason, there’s no reason why a smart baker can’t also use something more creative. After Morey combines the butter with the flour, she adds cream cheese, which further bulks up her biscuits.
4. Add buttermilk by feel, not measurement, and add more than you think you need. Biscuit dough requires varying amounts of liquid depending on the weather. Morey pours from a half-gallon container of buttermilk until the dough is spongy but saturated, and too sticky for kneading or folding. (During cool, dry winter months, the bakery uses substantially more buttermilk than it does at the humid height of summer in South Carolina. On a warm and relatively humid springtime day, our five pounds of flour required about five cups.) She believes that wet dough makes soft biscuits, but she adds plenty of extra flour as she works. First, to the top and sides of the dough. Then to the countertop onto which she flips the dough before she dusts the underside with still more flour and rolls it into a half-inch-thick sheet. She cuts her biscuits from the mass in a spiral pattern, starting from the ragged edges and moving into the neater center.
5. Biscuits should touch. Think of a tray of biscuits like a multi-part cake. When biscuits are clustered together, not only do they push each other to rise higher, but they also cook more evenly—as a mass, rather than independent pucks of dough. Morey nestles her biscuits tightly against each other, and she reinforces any empty areas on a baking sheet with ribbons of extra dough.
6. The more butter, the better. But most of you already knew that. Morey brushes melted butter on top of biscuits before they go into the oven, and brushes them with more after they come out. And still, some of her bakers dip the biscuits in butter before they eat them.