By Peter McCall, executive chef at Jackson 20
I am one of the fortunate ones. Growing up with my mother, I got to help make homemade biscuits quite often. I remember combining the ingredients listed on a faded recipe card dusted with flour, then watching the dough rise through the oven window, turning into fluffy clouds.
It didn’t have to be a special occasion for there to be biscuits. When my father returned home from traveling, we’d sit around the kitchen table and enjoy biscuits lathered with butter and apricot jam. After Christmas break, my brother and I would begin our cold trek back to school with a hot biscuit stuffed with leftover ham in each of our hands. Every Tuesday night, my mother would serve them for dinner, smothered with creamed chicken. Move over, chicken pot pie.
Years later, while I was working at a restaurant in London, an Englishman exclaimed that my biscuits looked a lot like scones when I pulled a hot batch from the oven to serve him and my other fellow cooks. I smiled, knowing that in just a few moments he would come to understand the differences between the two as I had. Biscuits are the perfect bread. Loaded with butter, they’re fluffy, flaky and slightly salty. They pair well with both sweet and savory dishes, and they’re enjoyable at any time of day.
I developed this recipe in my San Diego home kitchen for a major hotel chain, which was opening a large property in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, where I would later move to become the chef. But really, some iteration of this recipe has always been with me, from my mother’s home kitchen to Michelin-starred kitchens. Now, I hope you’ll enjoy them in your kitchen. And if you’re not a home cook, I invite you to stop in to Jackson 20 at The Alexandrian to try them there.
Make sure to keep all of your ingredients very cold and work quickly so you don’t melt the butter. The repetitive folds are essential for flaky layers. Be gentle so as not to overwork the dough, as over working will make the biscuits tough. Always weigh your ingredients for consistent results.
Chef Peter McCall is executive chef at Jackson 20 at The Alexandrian. At Jackson 20, McCall works to push the boundaries of what’s expected from a hotel restaurant and showcase the bounty of the Mid-Atlantic and Shenandoah Valley regions through his interpretations of classic southern dishes, as well as a few favorites from his travels abroad.
Recipe: Chef Peter McCall’s buttermilk biscuits
1 ¼ lbs. White Lily self-rising flour + more for dusting
½ lb. unsalted butter
¼ oz. kosher salt
14 oz. buttermilk + a little extra for brushing the tops
1. Preheat a cast-iron skillet in a 400-degree convection oven (425 degrees if conventional).
2. Place the flour and salt in a stainless-steel mixing bowl.
3. With a box grater on the larger shredding side, grate the cold butter directly into the flour and lightly toss together to coat the butter pieces with flour.
4. Add the buttermilk and fold gently with a scraper or spatula until the dough loosely comes together.
5. Turn the loose dough out onto a well-floured worksurface and sprinkle the top with flour.
6. Roll gently until the dough is approximately ¾ to one inch thick. At this point, the dough will be very sticky and not smooth yet, but don’t worry.
7. Using a scraper, fold the dough in half onto itself and repeat the flouring and rolling step until you have folded and rolled five times and your final dough is smooth and approximately ¾ to one inch thick.
8. Cut your biscuits with a two-inch round cutter, punching straight down, but never twisting. You can reroll the leftover dough once after the initial cut, but after that, the biscuits will come out too tough, so be sure to cut as close together as possible on the first roll.
9. Brush the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk. At this point you can freeze the biscuits for baking later or proceed to baking.
10. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and close the oven to keep the heat from escaping.
11. Place the biscuits into the skillet closely together. They should be touching.
12. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the center biscuit is cooked inside when pulled apart.
13. Remove from the pan, pat yourself on the back and allow to cool slightly. They are best served immediately with any number of sweet or savory toppings: Apple butter, jams, fruit compotes, country ham, pimento cheese, sausage gravy, bacon and eggs. You get the idea.