Sea Salt and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits are easier to make from scratch than you think, and a fabulous addition to your brunch or dinner party. They also make an excellent hors d’ouevres!
Hand Squashed Biscuits
I was maybe 14 years old when my Uncle told me I would never get a man if I didn’t learn how to make hand squashed biscuits. He told me this as he was making tomato gravy. Not the red tomato sauce cooked down til thick and flavorful and spread over everything from spaghetti to poboys, but a milk gravy and tomato concoction that’s made like southern sausage gravy.
Despite growing up in my super southern family (those roots are gonna show in this post!) I had never had tomato gravy, and I watched with interest as he created a shockingly pink (yet surprisingly delicious) milk gravy using just what we had on hand. I think that’s where a lot of good cooking comes from – making the most of what you have on hand.
I made an offhand comment about how he could really cook quite well. So it was a bit ironic that he was telling me I couldn’t get a man unless I was a good cook, when he, as a man, was cooking for me and doing it quite well.
That did not go over well.
But I’ve always enjoyed being in the kitchen, and I decided that sexist or not, I would learn how to make hand squashed biscuits.
Except, there’s about 8 million different biscuits.
Well, that isn’t true exactly, but what kind of biscuit do you like?
My grandmother was partial to cat head biscuits, or smaller, crispier, thinner biscuits. My mother would basically like her biscuit to be as close to cake as possible please, and slathered with butter and honey to boot.
Me, personally, I like all biscuits now, and ten to choose the style and height of my biscuit based on what I intend to make to go WITH the biscuit.
But we’ll get into that more later.
A Little Biscuit History
One of my favorite things about food (besides eating it) is how quickly it can slice to the heart of a culture. I took a little google trip into the history of the biscuit so I could share some fun facts with you about it, and kind of got lost down that rabbit trail. It took me all the way back to Civil War history, in fact, and I was fascinated by the, ahem, rise of the biscuit in southern culture.
As with many things, the biscuits origin story comes from necessity and invention. The term, biscuit, comes from the French and means “twice baked,” even though modern biscuits are not twice baked.
Prior to and through the Civil War, making biscuits was a laborious process and assigned, primarily, to slaves. At the time, beaten biscuits were the thing, and made by basically hand beating the lard into the flour. Beaten biscuits are harder, tougher biscuits, and after the Civil War, and the end of slavery, beaten biscuits fell by the way side until 1883.
Wow, that’s a really specific time you say.
And you’re right.
But 1883 was when the White Lily factory in Knoxville, Tennessee began milling all purpose flour from a locally grown red winter wheat. Why does the kind of wheat matter?
Well, without getting too scientific, there different kinds of wheat produce very different kinds of flour. Some wheat versions (and milling processes) produce hearty, thick, glutenous flour better for baking bread.
What the White Lily flour did, though, was a game changer, because it was a super fine, low protein, low gluten flour that was perfect for getting a “rise.”
The Red Wheat and the Rise
The rise, of course, has to do with the height and consistency of your baked good. Indeed, Erica Yoon in a New York Times article about the 2008 closing of the White Lily factory in Knoxville said,
Soft wheat is, in fact, the key to understanding why the South is better known for cakes, biscuits and pie crusts than for yeast breads, which require the strength of high-protein flour. Soft red winter wheat was once grown primarily in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee and, in the days before national food distribution networks, it was the only wheat widely available in the South. Nowadays, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois are among the largest producers.
The article goes on to add that “The Knoxville plant has long claimed that White Lily is ground finer and sifted more times than any other flour on the market.” Which all adds up to better baking, at least if your going for biscuits or cakes.
Are Biscuits By-Gone?
And it’s interesting to me that the wheat isn’t really grown here in the South anymore, but in the Midwest, which is a very different climate. Some argue, even, that the climate produces a different kind of wheat than the red wheat grown in the south.
Which rather makes me sad. A 100 year old tradition ended, then, with the closing of the Knoxville plant in 2008.
It begs the question, will southern buttermilk biscuits ever be the same?
Growing up, biscuits were a part of most home cooked meals. If we sat down to dinner or breakfast, biscuits (or perhaps yeast rolls, but we’ll get to those in a later post!) were sure to be a part. Biscuits and sausage or bacon gravy were a staple for breakfast, and biscuits were always there for dinner too, waiting to soak up even more melting butter into their puffy little layers.
I could never eat fried chicken without finishing with a honey biscuit.
And there’s always been something about those biscuits that you get at fried chicken places that makes them seem saltier than any other kind. Which I loved paired with a pat of melting butter and a drizzle of honey.
The salty, the sweet.
The memories of those biscuits, packed away in a napkin, smelling of grease, the good kind of grease, the kind that promises crispy chicken skin and indulgence.
Memories of pulling those biscuits out with my grandmother later, spreading butter on those cold day-olds, toasting them up in the oven. Opening plastic packets of spirited away golden honey and drizzling the thick syrupy honey on them the next morning.
Maybe pairing them with a cold leftover chicken wing to nibble, maybe not.
There’s just something about biscuits that will always mean this. There’s something sort of every day and after-thoughtish about them. Something back of the mind. Something out of time.
Playing with my Food
I suppose it was the idea of this, then, those salty fried chicken biscuits that we never even made that inspired this recipe for Sea Salt and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits.
I wanted to evoke the salty and sweet pairing potential for my present day vegetarian self.
And these Sea Salt and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits, I must say, really do capture something of that vibe. They’re tasty paired with a tangy jam, like my Strawberry Lime Jam, or something savory, like my upcoming fried green tomato with whipped goat cheese spread.
They are actually incredibly easy to make too.
And there’s something so satisfying about one’s hands being covered in flour, working them into a dough isn’t there?
I have several more buttermilk biscuit recipe variations coming. But in the meantime, tell me, what kind of biscuit do you like? Thin and crispy? Thick and pillowy? Savory or sweet?
Sea Salt and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits
- 2 Cups All Purpose Flour White Lily or Martha White would be the most typically used in the South, in the absence of those, I would opt for a finer pastry flour.
- 1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
- 2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
- 1/2 Cup Butter
- 1 Cup Buttermilk
- 1 Teaspoon Lareg Flaky Finishing Salt (Himalayan, Cypriot, etc)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Combine flour, sea salt, black pepper, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl, and whisk to combine.
- Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut your butter into the flour. Essentially, this just means work it into the flour until your butter is the size of small peas scattered throughout, and the mixture is very crumbly. Despite the fact that my Uncle wanted me to make "hand squashed biscuits" I actually try to keep my hands out of these at this stage, as I don't want my body heat to warm the butter. The colder the butter, the flakier (and puffier) the biscuits will be.
- When your butter is worked in, make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk, folding in the flour on the sides as you go. Don't overwork the flour, but fold it together until all of the buttermilk is incorporated.
- Take the dough and lay it on a piece of floured parchment paper. Roll or pat the dough out til it's about 1/2 inch thick, and then fold each side in. Repeat this process twice. This process gives a kind of lamination to the dough, or in laymen's terms, it helps it rise.
- Spread the dough out to about half inch thick again, and using a biscuit cutter or a mason jar, cut out biscuits without twisting the biscuit cutter or mason jar. You don't want to finish the edges by twisting the cutter, as that will impede the biscuit's rise.
- Place biscuits on a cookie sheet so that all the biscuits are touching, and brush the tops with a little leftover buttermilk or even melted butter, for a more golden appearance.
- Using your finishing salt, place a few flakes on top of each biscuit.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through.
These sound amazing with the black pepper and salt on top too! I’d love to try them and for me I’ve like them straight out of the oven spread with butter! Delicious.
I would so be all over this and with butter right out of the oven maybe with some eggs no the side, the only thing is being gluten free. I need to use this when making gluten free biscuits. Thanks!
I’m a native French Speaker and didn’t get it yet… bis-cuit … man I feel dumb. Totally obvious now! I love your savoury twist here, I’m a salty person, so this would be my kind of “biscuit”!
I love the sound of these seasoned biscuits. Perfect to use in so many areas…side to soup, chili, salad…or for a mini sandwich too.
My hubby and I were just talking about how long it has been since we had a good biscuit!!! These look so simple and delicious, love that they are different from the usual cheese biscuit!
Thanks Olive Blogger! Although now, man – I’m craving cheese biscuits!
I’m a fan of buttermilk biscuits but my wife is an even bigger fan. I love to make them for her on Saturdays and a I think your recipe might show up this Saturday :).
Aw thanks Fred! I hope she likes them!
This is a really interesting post! I’d LOVE the recipe for tomato gravy too…
Hi Danielle! Absolutely! Email me at info at coquettekitchen dot com and I’ll send it to you!
Thanks for commenting!
I don’t know, you may be right on target with the 8 million variations! LOL There really are so many different ways to make them. I love your version with the savory salt & pepper. These would be great served with a stew.
Who doesn’t love a good biscuit recipe? Of course, over here we call them scones. I loved your background information in the post!
I was just looking for a biscuit recipe today. It’s nice to see a different take on an old standard.
Thanks Nicole! 🙂
When I read the title I was like oh yeah! These sound amazing! Very unique recipe you have. I am wondering what they would taste like. Thanks for sharing!
ha, thanks! They’re buttery, salty, and with just a little zing from the pepper. With some added jam, they are basically ALL OF THE THINGS 🙂
These sound like the perfect biscuit for biscuits and gravy. or just slathered with butter! haha. definitely going to make these!
Thanks Derek! Let me know how it goes if you try them! 🙂
YUM! Homemade biscuits are the best!! I love the addition of the salt and pepper, I best they smell amazing fresh from the oven!
Oh my gosh do they ever! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!
That was such an interesting read, since I love biscuits! I am Italian, born and bread, and came to Canada very few years ago. I’d love to taste the real Southern biscuits, so I’ll try to get closer, making your recipe which sounds and looks amazing.
Oh thank you! I can’t imagine anyone not liking a biscuit 🙂 Thanks for commenting!
I might end up licking the salt off all of the biscuits – what a fun read!
Heather – that is perfectly ok! 🙂 I’m sometimes tempted to do that myself!
This is definitely my kind of brunch!!! Thanks for sharing about the history of biscuits!
Thanks Amy! I’m glad you liked it!
[…] base, which means even vegans can get in on the party. It’s awesome served over our Sea Salt and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits, but I also love it as an accompaniment to eggs, or even over […]
Loved this peek into the history of traditional biscuits and I’m so excited to have this tasty recipe to try as well!
Thanks Jenn! Let me know if you like it 🙂
This is a fantastic biscuit primer — I’m from the South, but you’ve taught me a few things about biscuits. This might sound heretical knowing what we know now about Crisco, but I find that it makes the best biscuits. I love the flavor from butter, but in terms of flaky biscuits with that soft light interior? Crisco.
oo, interesting! A friend of mine and I were just discussing this. EVERYONE has a favorite biscuit, and way of making a biscuit. And I love that! I’m a butter girl myself, but I certainly will not look at a Crisco biscuit askance. Basically, I just like biscuits 🙂
Homemade biscuits are so wonderful! Great photos too!
Loved reading this little biscuit history. It’s not a food tradition I grew up with but came to really love when I was looking for ways to use discard from feeding my sourdough starter and came across a sourdough biscuit. Now we can’t have chili or stews without some great biscuits on the side
ohhhhh, sourdough biscuits! YUM. Heart eye emoji times ten!
These biscuit recipe is a keeper, such a delicious flavours and recipe!
Absolutely gorgeous looking biscuits, thanks for sharing