The best biscuits are made with White Lily flour. Here's why, and a better biscuit recipe
If you’ve ever eaten a biscuit outside of the South, you might wonder why other regions sometimes fall short of biscuit goodness.
Southerners have been making biscuits for generations and have had ample time to hone their expertise. However, any trained chef should be able to make a decent biscuit.
If butter or shortening and buttermilk are the controls in our experiment, the real variable is flour. Ask any Southern chef or sagacious biscuit grandma and a pattern will emerge: Many swear by White Lily flour. What’s so special about this revered Southern flour? It all comes down to protein or lack thereof.
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White Lily flour comes from soft winter wheat, low in protein and gluten. When a liquid is introduced to glutenin and gliadin, the proteins in flour, they swell and develop elasticity that's enhanced when worked by hand or machine. Gluten development provides flour-based food with structure, which is beneficial for French baguettes, homemade pasta and the like. But biscuits are quick breads, ideally much softer than their well-kneaded cousins. Even with a gentle touch, biscuits made from all-purpose flour can emerge tough and dense.
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Whereas conventional all-purpose flour contains a protein content of 12%, White Lily flour contains a modest 9%, making it closer to pastry flour than all-purpose. As White Lily flour hydrates, the gluten development will never reach the full potential of brands like Gold Medal or King Arthur. The result is a lighter, fluffier biscuit with a greater rise.
Fundamentally, there is little to no difference in buying White Lily’s self-rising flour and adding additional salt and baking powder to White Lily’s all-purpose flour. Although if you favor more consistency in the blend, go for the self-rising.
If you live in a part of the country where White Lily flour is unavailable, you still have options. First, just order it off the internet. Big-box suppliers like Amazon can easily ship dry goods throughout the country, and you can order enough to keep your shelves biscuit-ready for quite some time.
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Is your biscuit craving too immediate to be satisfied by overnight delivery? You can make your own White Lily facsimile by replacing half of your conventional all-purpose or self-rising flour with cake flour. Cake flour has a 6% protein content, which, when mixed in equal portions with 12% all-purpose flour, yields a total of 9% protein. Science!
While the protein and gluten content of the flour holds greater importance than the actual brand, White Lily flour provides one of the most user-friendly blends on the market, making it worthy of the praise it receives from chefs and home cooks.
Classic Southern buttermilk biscuits
If you’re looking for the perfect biscuit, look no further than these classic, buttery, buttermilk biscuits. For the best results, seek out White Lily self-rising flour; its low protein content will help produce the lightest, fluffiest biscuits. If you can’t find it, you can substitute your favorite self-rising flour, but be aware that your results may vary.
Makes: 12 to 15 biscuits
Hands on time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
3 cups White Lily self-rising flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced and chilled, plus 4 tablespoons, melted, for brushing
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces of butter scattered throughout, about 15 one-second pulses. Transfer to a large bowl.
Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the buttermilk. Using your hands, mix the buttermilk into the flour mixture. Turn the bowl as you go, lifting your hand from the bottom of the mixture to the top, almost in a folding motion. At this point, the dough should still be shaggy, with plenty of flour left in the bottom.
Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Pat the dough into a rectangle, incorporating the remaining flour. Fold the dough over onto itself and then pat it back into a rectangle. Repeat a few more times to form a somewhat cohesive dough that just holds together when cut.
Use your hands or a rolling pin to press the dough out until it is 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to punch out biscuits, making sure not to twist the cutter as it goes in and out of the dough. Transfer the biscuits to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press any scraps into a rough rectangle and punch out additional biscuits. Discard any remaining scraps; do not re-roll more than once.
Brush the biscuits with some of the melted butter and bake until risen and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately brush with the remaining butter and serve hot.