Recipe

How to Bake the Perfect Cathead Biscuit

A recipe from the biscuit whisperer of Hattiesburg, Mississippi

A plate of biscuits

Photo: Kate Dearman

Robert St. John is a big player on the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, restaurant scene, and when he opened the Midtowner in 2017, he knew he wanted to serve a big biscuit. So while he chased the flavor profile of his grandmother’s acidic buttermilk recipe (not that there existed an actual recipe), he upgraded her “petite, old lady biscuits” to catheads.

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For those not in the know, “cathead” is a Southernism for a biscuit that’s as big as a cat’s head. One could ponder if a less evocative size comparison might have been found, but the name just kind of works (and is certainly preferable to “tuna can biscuits” or “ashtray biscuits”). For biscuit sticklers—try to say that three times fast—yes, catheads are often formed by hand. But because the Midtowner’s customers consume 1,500 of them a week with breakfast and blue-plate lunches, an oversized three-inch round cutter is deployed for the sake of efficiency.

photo: Kate Dearman
St. John enjoys a cathead.

For best results, St. John advises using high-quality butter such as Kerrygold or Plugra, plus full-fat buttermilk, which can require reaching past the commonly low-fat supermarket buttermilk. His grandmother’s somewhat unorthodox use of eggs is maintained because he finds that the yolks lend richness and the whites lend “fluff and air.” He also freezes and grates the butter to help it remain very cold until baking and achieve even distribution in the dough, an innovative prep trick he calls “one of the things that makes this biscuit what it is.”

photo: Kate Dearman

The results are impressive in size and taste. Take it from St. John himself: “I start most mornings in booth nineteen at the Midtowner, and when I eat this cathead, I think it’s the best biscuit I’ve ever eaten. Period. End of story.”


Ingredients

  • Cathead Biscuits (Yield: 16 biscuits)

    • 2 sticks unsalted butter

    • 3½ cups all-purpose flour

    • 2 tbsp. sugar

    • 1 tbsp. kosher salt

    • 3 tsp. baking powder

    • 1 tsp. baking soda

    • 2 large eggs

    • 1½ cups whole buttermilk


Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place butter in freezer until frozen solid. Add the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in the bowl of a standing mixer or other large bowl. Using the standing mixer or a handheld mixer, use the paddle attachment to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk.

  2. Grate the frozen butter with the large holes on a box grater or cheese grater. Quickly add the butter chips to the flour mixture and mix for 30 seconds. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and blend until the dough just barely comes together. Don’t overmix.

  3. Working quickly, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to a ½-inch thickness. Cut 16 biscuits using a sharp, 3-inch round cutter. Cut straight up and down; do not twist. Lightly spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray and arrange the biscuits on the pan. Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 16 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and enjoy while hot!


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