Wednesday 29 June 2011

Buttermilk biscuits

When I think of "traditional" bread, my mind usually conjures up images of a glorious, crusty, slow-rising loaf - the sort of bread that's been the primary focus of Gluten-Free Boulangerie since the beginning, in other words. But what about other traditions? Sure, most people here in the US are quite familiar with French- or Italian-style bread, regardless of their heritage. Yet depending on the family or community, that may not be the one that holds a special place on the table - the particular bread that makes a meal seem complete. Anthropologists often refer to it as a "staple starch" - it varies by culture of course, but in so many cuisines there is a distinct bread or other starchy food that is always on the table.

That brings me to what you see on the table above. In a few weeks we'll be moving to the Southeast, and I was spending some time the other day trying to get a good idea of the gluten-free options that will be in the area. Suddenly it occurred to me that it had been years since I'd had a biscuit. No, not this kind of biscuit - I mean the kind that is fluffy and flaky, that's most delicious eaten warm and preferably slathered with butter. And as soon as that image crossed my mind, I was then very aware of just how long it had been; I hadn't had one since well before going gluten-free. And that, I decided, needed to change.

Despite the fact that they're leavened with baking powder, are quick to mix up, and bake in a matter of minutes, when you go back to the concept of the "staple starch," you can see these biscuits have far more in common with the aforementioned crusty bread than the recipe would suggest. Although, to really complete the picture, I'm told I will have to find a good recipe for cornbread!

Basic Buttermilk Biscuits - makes 12-16

100 g tapioca flour
60 g potato starch
40 g white rice flour
25 g sorghum flour
25 g garbanzo bean flour
20 g brown rice flour

2 tsp double-acting baking powder, divided
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T (15 g) sugar
1 T psyllium husks
1/4 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)

1/4 cup cold butter, Spectrum organic shortening, or a combination (will be a total of ~148-156 g, depending on which kind of fat you use) PLUS 1 T melted butter for brushing

145 mL buttermilk (OR, mix 130 mL milk with 15 mL vinegar)

You will also need:
A large baking sheet, parchment paper, a spatula or wooden spoon, and extra tapioca flour for rolling

Pre-heat your oven to 260ºC/500ºF. If you are making your own "buttermilk," first mix the milk and vinegar as instructed and set it aside. Combine flours, psyllium, pectin, sugar, salt, baking soda, and one teaspoon of the baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter and/or shortening using a pastry blender until it is in small chunks, and then use your fingers to lightly rub it in until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until you have a soft dough.

Place a sheet of parchment on the counter and dust it evenly with tapioca flour. Pat or roll out the dough on the floured paper. The dough will be very soft - flour your hands or rolling pin to prevent sticking. Now, to help make flaky layers: sprinkle about half of the remaining teaspoon of baking powder over the surface and lightly rub to spread it out. Once you've done that, fold the dough rectangle in half - it may help to lift up the edges of the parchment to fold it over. Dust the bare area on the paper with more tapioca flour, pat it into a rectangle again, and sprinkle over the remaining baking powder. Fold it in half just as before.

Now roll or pat the dough to a thickness of 3/4 inch (~2 cm). If you have a proper round biscuit cutter, by all means use it; do not, however, attempt to cut biscuits with something that is dull, such as a glass - your biscuits will not rise well. I used a sharp bench scraper, which is why the biscuits are square. Cut the dough into biscuits and space them out evenly. Slide the baking sheet under the parchment. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter, and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.


  1. These biscuits are lovely and delicious!

    I substituted ground golden flax seeds (1 tbsp. plus 3 tsps. boiling water) for the psyllium and pectin in order to get a little bit of a glutinous quality, and -- while they didn't look exactly like the picture -- they are fantastic!

    I have been trying to find a way to eat without gluten that doesn't leave me with the disgruntled and miserable attitude that I will never enjoy food again -- and you have at last given me hope.

    I will be trying more of your recipes soon. Thanks so much for helping to solve the gluten free food puzzle.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you had success with the flax seeds. And I'm so very glad (and flattered!) that my recipes have helped you feel better.

  2. Nice texture from the psyllium and pectin, but I did not end up with a soft dough. It was incredibly dry, for some reason. I added a bit more buttermilk. I'm thinking more than a bit more next time though.