Buttermilk biscuits à la Café Septième

This recipe came from my friend Richmond Tracy who was head baker at legendary Seattle Café Septième, now long departed.  The original location in Belltown was a tiny hole in the wall with three south-facing tables outside, where you could sit, back against the whitewashed wall, soaked in the morning sun and enjoy a big bowl of café crème with one of these biscuits hot out of the oven.

The trick to getting flaky biscuits is to use the best quality butter and make sure that it stays cold. Use butter straight out of the refrigerator and work quickly so that your hands don’t melt the butter.  In French, the act of rubbing together butter and flour is described by the verb sabler, from the word sable meaning sand.  When done right, your mix of butter and flour resembles sand.  You gotta love a language with SO many verbs to describe actions involved in cooking and eating.

Buttermilk biscuits

Ingredients

  • 3.5 cups buttermilk
  • 1lb butter (cold)

Dry Ingredients

  • 8 cups flour (white unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Note

This is a fairly large batch restaurant-sized recipe. Yield is about 28 2" biscuits.

Preparation

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, whisk to break up any lumps.
2. Cut the cold butter into half inch dice. Add to the dry ingredients. Work the butter into the dry ingredients by rubbing between your hands. Work quickly so that the butter does not get warm. Continue until the butter and flour mix is a fairly homogenious mix with small butter pieces and a sand-like consistency.
3. Add the buttermilk a little at a time, working it in. Only use enough so that the mixture forms a soft dough, do not make it too wet. Kneed the dough a couple times so that it is a mostly uniform ball.
4. Roll out the dough to about 1/2" thickness. If it sticks, use a little extra flour. Cut the dough into rounds using a fluted circular 2"cutter or the top of a glass.
5. Put the cut biscuits onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (if using a glass baking dish, I find that no paper is needed). If a darker, glossy top is desired, brush with egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 T water).
6. Bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees until golden on the top and bottom and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.
7. Enjoy warm!
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