Grandma Mary’s Heavenly Light Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits

Heavenly Light Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits

My Hutterite grandmother, Mary Pullman Stahl, was lauded for her other-worldly cooking, and when it came to biscuits, hers were incomparable. As a farm girl used to the demands of communal meal preparation, she never measured anything and the speed with which she could cover every counter in the kitchen with impossibly tender, light, fragrant buttermilk biscuits was nothing short of magic–especially to her eight-year-old granddaughter who stood by ready to make cinnamon “dog ears” with the scraps.

Layering Butter for Buttermilk Skillet Biscuts

Although most of Grandma’s weekly mountain of buttermilk biscuits were baked separately on baking sheets, the final batch was treated to a butter swathed iron skillet. Those were the biscuits I prized most. The immediate heat from the skillet, extra butter, and minimal handling made them the best of the bunch.

Mixing Dry and Liquid Ingredients for Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits

It took me years to realize that the quality of Grandma Mary’s biscuits had more to do with the deft way in which she handled the dough rather than some secret formula. She kept everything cold, she was fast, and she used only five ingredients: flour, leavener, butter, lard, and buttermilk. Okay, maybe she threw in some salt too.

But even though I posted an in-depth treatise on the technique underlying the best biscuits or scones in the world (The Best Scones in the Entire Universe), I didn’t mention Grandma Mary’s Heavenly Light Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits in the mix. Mea culpa!

Completing Mixing for Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits

Then this morning, as I was perusing Suvir Saran’s inspired Masala Farm cookbook, there they were in all their glory on page 77. And even more ironically, they are titled Grandma Mae’s Biscuits, which was my own grandmother’s nickname.

Grandma Mary's Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits Ready to Bake

Well, the truth is that these buttermilk skillet biscuits are not unusual as far as the proportions go and are likely known to legions of fine country cooks, many of them someone’s beloved grandmother. They map to the Super High Butter, No Egg Formula in The Best Scones in the Entire Universe. And like Grandma Mae, Grandma Mary also used a portion of lard with the butter.

Grandma Mary's Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits Ready to Eat

Grandma Mary’s Heavenly Light Buttermilk Skillet Biscuits

Ethereally light, lofty, buttermilk skillet biscuits are only minutes away and couldn’t be easier to make. This soft, moist dough requires no rolling or cutting.

Before making these biscuits, be sure to read the Tips & Tricks in The Best Scones in the Entire Universe. The technique makes all the difference, as does thoroughly chilled ingredients.

Equipment Note   This recipe is scaled for a 10-inch cast iron skillet.

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (13½ ounces)
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled (¼ cup lard or shortening can replace ¼ cup butter if desired)

1 large egg, chilled
1 cup low-fat buttermilk, chilled

¼ cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, optional

homemade or artisan jam
unsalted butter or crème fraiche

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Turn out onto a clean work surface.
  2. Distribute the very cold butter over the dry ingredients and toss lightly to coat the pieces with flour. Using a large, heavy rolling pin, roll over the mixture to flattened the butter. Using a dough scraper, push the mixture together, and then repeat the rolling process. Repeat two more times, scraping off the rolling pin between each process.
  3. Scoop the mixture into a mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least ½ hour to chill the butter.
  4. Meanwhile, in a glass measuring cup with a pouring spout, whisk the egg and buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
  5. Remove the bowl from the fridge, and add the very cold liquid. Use a large, flexible spatula to gently fold the liquid into the developing dough so that the dough becomes uniformly moistened. Do not stir the dough!
  6. Turn the dough out onto the work counter and very gently move it around a bit to ensure that all portions are uniformly moistened. Do not knead the dough!
  7. If desired (for extra flakiness), after the dough is formed, flatten somewhat and gently make 2 letter folds (as for flakey pastry or croissant dough) in opposite directions. This will help to build flakey layers in the baked biscuit.
  8. Heat oven to 425°F.
  9. Set the skillet over medium heat and melt ¼ cup butter.
  10. Use a greased 1/3-cup measuring cup to gently portion the dough into 9-10 mounds. Place biscuits side-by-side in the prepared skillet.
  11. Ten minutes before baking, set an ovenproof dish filled with 1 cup water on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. (The steam will enhance the biscuit’s rise.)
  12. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 15-16 minutes, or until biscuits are light brown on the bottom and just golden on top. Do not over bake! Over baking produces dry biscuits.
  13. If desired, brush the baked biscuits with the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter.
  14. Serve from the skillet or remove biscuits to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before devouring them. Biscuits are at their absolute perfection within an hour out of the oven.
  15. Serve hot with butter or crème fraiche and jam.
  16. To store, let the biscuits cool completely, then seal in an airtight Ziploc bag for as long as a day before eating. Otherwise freeze the biscuits and later reheat in a 350° oven for 5 minutes or in a microwave for 10-15 seconds.

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Copy­right 2013 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.

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  1. says

    I love the idea of baking things in skillets but have never actually done so myself! I think its time to start, dont you? :) And I think these have to be first!


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