If I’m being completely honest, my first-ever biscuit may have been from my college cafeteria. Or KFC. Definitely not homemade.
However, if we need to establish why I’m qualified to help you find the best biscuit recipe ever, my qualifications boil down to the fact that I LOVE BISCUITS. The rich crumb, the flakiness, the airy cakiness…it all calls to me deep in my soul.
When I picture a perfect biscuit, it’s tall, flaky and golden on top (although I’m also a fan of cakey, pale biscuits) with a tender, tight-crumbed interior. Texturally, I like both the powdery, cakey biscuits that almost melt in your mouth and the more toothsome, crisp-on-the-outside, intensely flaky types that you can practically peel apart. The perfect biscuit also has to have a good salt balance and an excellent buttery, savory flavor.
I thought this bake off would be one of the easiest as so many biscuit recipes are very basic. In reality, I found tons of permutations, so we ended up baking 16 different recipes in search of the best!
Methodology: how we made the biscuits
- All 16 recipes were baked fresh the day of and tasted at room temperature. (I wish we could have had a way to taste them all warm and fresh out of the oven, but I’m not a magician).
- 31 tasters ranked each biscuit on a scale from 1-10 for flavor and 1-10 for texture (re-rolled biscuits were not served)
- All biscuits were baked on 9×13 baking sheets lined with Silpats
- Each biscuit was tasted plain or with optional butter/jam
- Unbleached Gold Medal all-purpose flour
- White Lily self-rising flour
- White Lily all-purpose flour
- Land O Lakes butter (both unsalted and salted)
- Crisco shortening
- Borden’s cultured buttermilk
- Diamond kosher salt
- Kroger sugar
Note: I used Land O Lakes specifically in this bake off because America’s Test Kitchen ranks it highly and it is a super consistent product. White Lily is a special bleached flour that is widely available in the south and can be difficult to find elsewhere. In the tips section at the end, I note substitution options.
How we selected 16 top biscuit recipes
As always, I collected all of the biscuit recipes I feasibly could into this Google Spreadsheet, mostly by searching “best biscuit recipe” as well as collecting your suggestions on Instagram. After removing any similar/duplicate recipes, I selected a mix that seemed both representative of the majority as well as some that used interesting techniques or ingredients.
I tried to include a good mix of:
- Standard all purpose flour vs. White Lily flour
- Dairy: yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, milk and heavy cream
- Fat: butter or shortening
- Egg: Some argue that eggs don’t belong in biscuits, but this was an interesting addition
Here’s a breakdown of the recipes I selected:
[table id=2 /]
Best biscuit bake off results
To be completely honest, I don’t fully trust the scores from this bake off. I suspected that asking tasters to judge 16 biscuits at once was too many, and after looking at the results, I think this was probably true. (Although my suspicions are based on the fact that the anecdotal favorite during the tasting only placed fifth overall whereas an adjacent biscuit placed first. So I THINK people may have mixed up the scores, but this could be a coincidence.)
For this reason, I’m not focusing on the actual scores as much as as I’ll talk about the trends of top performers, middle ground, and least favorite recipes in the analysis section below. However, in the below chart, you can see the overall rankings for flavor, taste, and the trend line for the average of these two scores. (Click on the chart to enlarge it):
As always, I also like to compare the recipe composition to see if any trends jump out between the top and bottom scorers.
Note: in the below chart, flour, sugar and egg are self explanatory. Fat encompasses butter and shortening, and liquid includes buttermilk, milk, sour cream, yogurt, heavy cream. Heavy cream was a tricky one as it straddles the line between fat and liquid. I chose to count it as a liquid, which is why it looks like the Smitten Kitchen recipe has 0% fat
Influencing factors: fat and eggs
More fat = better biscuits: I suspected that biscuits with a higher proportion of fat (like Nancy Silverton and Bon Appetit) would do very well in this bake off. While they did do well, and while most of the biscuits in the top spots had close to a 20%+ fat composition, Southern Souffle snagged second place with just 14% fat. So while more fat of course helps with flavor, it’s not the be-all, end-all. I was curious to see if Callie’s recipe, with the truly lowest percentage of fat of all the recipes (just 2 tablespoons of butter!) could beat the odds, but sadly not.
Eggs for loft and structure, but less flavor: This excellent Food52 article explains that eggs can add richness, extra height, tenderness and help with browning. After running several tests, the author found that biscuits with egg were taller, less fragile, and had a “doughier moistness” (with a sturdiness more appropriate for a biscuit sandwich). The biscuits without egg were more purely buttery and slightly less chewy–the ideal if you want the most tender, buttery biscuit.
We only tested two recipes with egg (Joy the Baker and The Kitchenista Diaries) and though I can’t say that these biscuits necessarily rose taller than others, they were both fairly sturdy. Flavor-wise, I think JTB’s higher proportion of sugar distracts from any butter flavor that might be lacking. I did notice that I preferred the flavor of the Divas Can Cook biscuit (very similar recipe), and I wonder if this is due to the added egg in TKD’s recipe.
Analysis of the best biscuit recipe: a discussion on the rankings
Even though Kenji writes that he had worked on perfecting his biscuit recipe for his book and it was the only recipe I found that used sour cream, I wasn’t expecting much from this biscuit. However, the final biscuits emerged from the oven picture-perfect. They had a nice rise, golden crusts (thanks to a brushing of melted butter), and flaky insides (thanks to a quick lamination/folding technique to maximize layers). The sour cream and buttermilk contribute a detectable tang that compliments the substantially buttery flavor, and the bite is soft and just slightly chewy. It has a slightly airier, more open and spongy crumb compared to other biscuits (and if you’re wondering, it held up pretty well to reheating, with a still-moist middle).
Tasters praised this biscuit for a “perfect butter flavor,” a satisfyingly moist and slightly doughy texture with a crispy exterior. While some thought this had a good amount of salt, others thought it verged on too salty and that it could be flakier. My main critique of this biscuit is that it was a tad too salty for my taste and I personally prefer a more tight-crumbed, less spongy biscuit.
Southern Souffle: a flavorful, sturdy (i.e. not crumbly) biscuit recipe with plenty of textural contrast from the crisp, golden exterior to the soft, spongy interior
Erika of Southern Souffle runs a biscuit pop-up in Atlanta: a true biscuit-making legend. According to this Splendid Table interview, Erika prefers sturdy biscuits with crisp bottoms that flake but won’t fall apart, which is why she uses all-purpose flour, butter and shortening. Although our biscuits didn’t turn out like the photos (we may have rolled the dough too thin to the 1/2″ height specified before folding), these were definitively sturdy, buttery biscuits with a fluffy, sliiightly spongy interior. These biscuits also had a beautiful golden color thanks to a brushing of syrup butter before baking.
Tasters loved the classic profile with its soft, slightly cakey interior and crunchy edges (almost reminiscent of Popeyes), but some complained it was a bit bland and could use some more salt. I only wish that our biscuits didn’t turn out as flat as they did (most likely baker’s error). I’m glad this biscuit recipe did well in spite of its shape because the flavor really is outstanding. Plus, it’s gratifying to see that you can still make an awesome southern biscuit without having to seek out White Lily flour.
Nancy Silverton: a complex, incredibly indulgent, knock-your-socks-off buttery, flaky biscuit; an excellent make-ahead biscuit recipe
Nancy Silverton is a James Beard award-winning chef who is a fantastic bread baker and here is your warning: these biscuits require an absolutely insane amount of butter (5 sticks to make what must be 12 gargantuan biscuits [we halved the recipe]), frozen, that you have to grate and then freeze for 30 minutes. I grated the butter by hand, which was a nightmare. While the recipe says you can use a grating blade in a food processor, I received some feedback that this method doesn’t always work well.
After making the dough (which requires folding), you must again freeze the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. In other words, they’re a pain in the butt to make (they also require baking at 2 different temperatures).
But. Hot out of the oven, positively OOZE butter. They’re hefty, crispy, heavenly-smelling, perfectly salt-flecked, and craggy with layers. Even at room temp, tasters definitely noted the immensely buttery flavor and crunchy bottoms and deep saline notes–some appreciate the salt level, some thought they were too salty (“salt bae wants his biscuit back”). Had we tasted each biscuit fresh, I think this would have been a serious contender for top biscuit. Unfortunately, these biscuits don’t not reheat as well as others–they get soft and lose some of the flakiness.
Bon Appetit: a tall, thick and extraordinarily flaky biscuit recipe (my new go-to!)
Conveniently, if you don’t feel like going to the effort of making Nancy’s biscuit, Bon Appetit’s recipe is an excellent, much easier alternative that is equally as good (if a little less buttery). The process is much more standard (only 10 minutes of chilling in the freezer is required, which you can do while the oven preheats) and you still end up with insanely flaky biscuits. The ingredients ratios are very similar to Nancy’s recipe except for butter and flour: Bon Appetit uses 1 cup more flour and half a stick less butter.
Our results led to a taller, more substantial biscuit that was less buttery (and also greasy) than Nancy’s biscuit. This will likely be my default go-to flaky biscuit in the future: it has a good balance of buttermilk flavor and great flakiness with just enough doughiness in the center. Tasters loved the crispy edges, dense texture yet flaky layers, rich flavor and great salt balance. The main complaint was that this biscuit erred on the dry side, but I don’t think this would be a problem if eaten fresh (as biscuits are supposed to be, I know). This biscuit was not one that reheated well–most of the beautiful layers got overshadowed by intensely crunchy edges.
Joy the Baker: a slightly cakey, sweet, scone-like biscuit recipe
Anecdotally, Joy the Baker’s biscuit was by far the most popular during the tasting. It stood out for its slight distinctive sweetness (Joy adds 2 tablespoons of sugar whereas most biscuit recipes add none) and texture–it verges into cakey territory with a slightly fluffier, soft interior. Joy adds an egg for structure, which did seem to help with the height, added a bit of firmness, and perhaps contributed to the slightly cakey texture of this biscuit. With a crunchy, golden top thanks to a coating of melted butter and nice powdery bite, there’s an addicting quality to this biscuit.
Tasters generally liked the slightly sweet flavor (some noted it was very reminiscent of a scone) though several were bemused by it. Most liked the slightly “cornbready,” slightly crumbly texture while others thought it was a bit too dry. Again, eaten fresh (and with butter), I can assure you this would not be an issue. This will likely be my go-to biscuit in the future if I’m in the mood for a cakier, sweeter biscuit.
Southern Living: the easiest 3-ingredient biscuit recipe for fluffy, picture-perfect biscuits
Honestly, this biscuit looks so picturesque that I think it skewed some of the votes based on pure aesthetics. At first glance, this biscuit seems too good to be true (and worthy of being named The Favorite of the Southern Living’s Test Kitchen). It literally calls for 3 ingredients: butter, self-rising flour and buttermilk with a fairly straightforward technique. However, despite the appealing golden brown cap (thanks to a heavy brushing of butter) and perfectly even, tight and fluffy crumb, I found the flavor to fall a little flat with a tiny afternote of bitterness. The texture is cloud-like and fantastic, but the flavor isn’t particularly buttery, it’s just kind of meh. It also seemed to stale faster than some other biscuits–it did hold up well when reheated.
This biscuit proved fairly divisive among tasters. Dubbed the GOAT by several tasters due to its buttery flavor and fluffy texture, others thought it had too much of a “neutral” taste and wasn’t flaky enough. Some thought the top was a little too crunchy (it reminded me a bit of an Eggo waffle). I might experiment with this biscuit in the future to see if I can get a better flavor, but overall if you don’t have self-rising flour on hand, I wouldn’t purchase it just for this recipe (or you can easily make DIY self-rising flour).
The Kitchenista Diaries: a thick, cakey, lofty golden biscuit recipe using White Lily flour
Angela’s blog post is chock-full of helpful tips about baking biscuits–it’s clear that she’s done extensive biscuit research, which was a key reason why I included her recipe. I’m not quite sure why our biscuits turned out more scone-shaped rather than biscuit-shaped, but they did turn out beautifully fluffy, with great height. All of the biscuits using White Lily flour had a significantly cakier texture than the all-purpose biscuits and this was no exception. There was a kind of melt-in-your-mouth quality that reminded me of a scone (it also calls for a combo of butter and butter-flavored shortening).
Angela also uses an egg yolk wash over the top, which gave the most vibrant, golden sheen to the biscuits. My only critique is that when I compared this side by side to the other biscuits, the texture was very similar to Divas Can Cook but I preferred the DCC flavor better (as mentioned above, I wonder if this is due to the added egg in TKD’s recipe). Tasters found this biscuit a bit bready and neutral-tasting, but agreed that it would be an excellent vehicle for gravy, cream, etc. This biscuit actually reheated very well, preserving a lot of the cakey tenderness.
Bravetart: light, tangy, golden brown, yogurt-based biscuit recipe
In this recipe, Stella omits the ever-present buttermilk, offering yogurt as a key ingredient to provide hydration and structure. Unfortunately, I don’t own a 10″ cast iron skillet so we decided to bake these biscuits on a regular cookie sheet, which resulted in shorter biscuits (placing biscuits together so they touch helps them grow taller). Stella also let me know that using a Silpat instead of parchment paper probably caused the bottom of the biscuit to bake up a bit differently.
Interestingly, I noticed tangy notes when tasting this biscuit, but other tasters didn’t pick up on the tang. Although the texture contrast was much stronger warm, the texture was just kind of soft, bready and a little chewy at room temperature. Tasters did enjoy the salt balance and the crunchy edges, but it didn’t really stand out–this is definitely a biscuit that’s crucial to enjoy warm (and to bake according to the recipe for best results!)
Divas Can Cook: a super light, cakey, White Lily flour biscuit recipe that isn’t overly buttery
Excitingly, these biscuits essentially lived up to my exact expectations based on the pictures! (Even though we forgot to space the biscuits together so that they touched during baking.) The White Lily flour lent these biscuits a heavenly light, super fluffy and cakey texture with great, plain, cream-like flavor. A combo of butter and butter-flavored shortening lends it plenty of tenderness without being overwhelmingly buttery. These biscuits would be equally excellent for a dinner accompaniment (it almost reminds me of a cakey Parker House roll) or for a dessert application like strawberry shortbread if you increased the sugar a bit. It held up well to reheating, with a still-tender inside.
Tasters loved the soft, fluffy, “scone-like” cakiness, but several wished for more flakiness and overall flavor (several commented that it needs more salt). My only personal quibble is that it uses a single tablespoon of mayo (my least favorite ingredient) for brushing over the top, but you could easily sub butter for this–I didn’t notice a difference. I also couldn’t tell a huge difference between recipes that used a combo of butter and butter-flavored shortening (this and The Kitchenista Diaries) vs. regular shortening (i.e. Southern Souffle). In the future, I will likely just use regular shortening since I more often have that on hand.
Samin Nosrat: a very indulgent and rich biscuit recipe that is shorter and not very flaky
Ms. Salt Fat Acid Heat uses a unique technique in her biscuits–she mixes in half the butter until fully incorporated before cutting in the rest of the butter in a more traditional fashion. She also uses both buttermilk and heavy cream–the ratios are almost identical to Bon Appetit’s recipe, except that she adds an extra cup of heavy cream. This more generous hydration percentage results in slightly flatter biscuits and an insane flavor–buttery and rich from the heavy cream, with a great salt balance and a slightly powdery, airy bite. They were significantly less flaky than Bon Appetit’s biscuits–in fact, I didn’t notice much flakiness at all.
Most tasters thought this biscuit had a great buttery flavor–while some loved the moist interior, others thought it almost verged on too wet and a bit bland. If only they were taller! The next time I make them, I’ll try baking them close together to see if I can get more rise out of them.
Shirley Corriher: an unusually sweet and cakey biscuit recipe that uses White Lily flour
So many people recommended this recipe that I couldn’t not try them even though they’re technically more like drop biscuits than cut out biscuits. This recipe uses all shortening (no butter), but also adds heavy cream and a whopping 1/4 cup of sugar! It uses this crazy technique where you roll balls of extremely wet dough in flour until it holds together before being tossed in a pan, brushed with butter and baked until golden. Fittingly, these pull-apart biscuits were by far the sweetest of the bunch, with such a soft, tender texture that it was essentially like eating cake. These staled faster than others simply because so much of the interior is exposed to air once you break into them, so they don’t hold up as well to reheating. These biscuits won’t be for everyone, but if you like a super sweet biscuit, you’re in for a treat.
“Bread masquerading as a biscuit” was the pervading opinion of tasters. Virtually no one thought this was a proper biscuit (more like a dinner roll, cake, bread, scone, you name it) and rated it accordingly–but those who liked it appreciated the sweet flavor and moist, soft texture. I can see myself making these in the future for a dinner party as a kind of biscuit/dinner roll hybrid.
King Arthur Flour: an easy, decent biscuit recipe that’s relatively low-fat and simple to make
Many people recommended this super simple recipe, and I was really rooting for it. With one of the lowest ratios of butter, these biscuits accordingly didn’t have much of a buttery flavor, but they did have a great fluffy texture and great height that erred slightly on the bready side. However, when toasted and served with toppings, I doubt anyone would complain. This is a solid biscuit; it just didn’t stand out among the others. Tasters complained it was a bit dry, crumbly and tasteless, “nothing to write home about.” Again, this wasn’t a biscuit that fared well at room temperature, but warm out of the oven, I think you’d have very little to complain about.
Sam Sifton: a flat, spongy, unmemorable biscuit recipe that uses milk instead of buttermilk
I was very skeptical of this recipe (the only one to use milk instead of buttermilk), but included it for research to see if buttermilk truly does make a difference. Consensus: it does. Buttermilk helps tenderize biscuits; without it, this recipe erred on the tougher side with spongy, open crumb reminiscent of cornbread. The flavor was also unmemorable. “This tastes like cornbread trying to be a biscuit,” said one taster. Overall tasters found the texture a bit flat, soft and a bit soggy and while the taste was fine, it wasn’t really remarkable–“could be way more buttery and salty,” said one taster. I’d say it’s an acceptable biscuit–like if you only have milk on hand, this is the one to make. But if you’re trying to impress, look elsewhere.
Smitten Kitchen: a pillowy, bland and very easy biscuit recipe
Probably the second easiest biscuit to make in terms of ingredients, this cream-style biscuit doesn’t include buttermilk or require any fat aside from cream (except for butter that’s brushed over the top). The super soft, cakey texture reminded me of Divas Can Cook or The Kitchenista (but interestingly, this texture was achieved with all-purpose flour instead of White Lily!)
Most tasters enjoyed the soft, pillowy texture of this biscuit (and liked the crunchy bottom), but a few complained that it was a bit dry and bready, and the overwhelming complaint was that it was too bland. It was interesting to see how poorly this plain cream biscuit fared against the competing buttermilk-style biscuits. I think it’s a great recipe for its category, and the simple, plain base would make for a great complement to strawberry shortcake, fried chicken or other toppings. It also reheats very well.
Callie’s: a chewy, salty, cream cheese-based biscuit recipe from Callie’s in Charleston
Several people nominated this recipe from Callie’s Charleston Biscuits. I was intrigued as it’s the only recipe I’ve found that uses cream cheese in the dough, and it uses such a small amount of butter (just 2 tablespoons). Ultimately, tasters found this biscuit a bit salty, with a good amount of tang, but otherwise the flavor seemed a bit one-note. “Tastes like waffle mix” said one taster. It was a bit chewy/bready for most people’s tastes and doesn’t hold up well to reheating. Although the pictures of these biscuits look super alluring, we just weren’t that impressed.
Tyler Florence: a 100% shortening-based biscuit recipe
I included Tyler’s recipe purely as a data point for an all-shortening biscuit recipe and unfortunately I think we messed up the recipe because everyone (including me) HATED it. For me, it tasted excessively of baking soda (so I’m curious to retry and see if I just accidentally added too much leavener). While the texture was gorgeously flaky (if a bit crumbly) and baked up super tall into what looked like my ideal biscuits, I couldn’t get past the flavor. There are probably good all-shortening recipes out there–this just isn’t one of them.
Addendum: Joanna Gaines!
I eliminated Joanna’s recipe from the original 16, but ended up testing it after the bake off out of curiosity. Overall thought: it’s nowhere near my top favorites. Joanna’s recipe spread quite a bit (ending up with a flatter texture like Samin’s) and tasted overpoweringly salty, which I think was due to both self-rising flour and salted butter. They were nicely fluffy with an open, spongy crumb, but not a recipe I would repeat.
My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe(s)
Here were my personal favorites:
- Flaky biscuit: Bon Appetit or Nancy Silverton
- Sweet and soft biscuit: Joy the Baker
- Soft and cakey biscuit: Divas Can Cook
- An easy, fast and picture-perfect biscuit: Southern Living
- Sturdy biscuit good for sandwiches: Southern Souffle, Serious Eats, Bravetart, Bon Appetit, Nancy Silverton, Samin Nosrat
- Sweeter biscuit for dessert applications: Joy the Baker, Smitten Kitchen, Divas Can Cook
- Maximum fluffiness: The Kitchenista Diaries
- Lower-fat but still delightful biscuit: King Arthur Flour
- If you’re out of buttermilk: Sam Sifton
- You want a very sweet roll-like biscuit: Shirley Corriher
Tips for Baking Perfect Biscuits
Want to bake the best biscuit ever? Here’s a list of all the tips I picked up during this experiment. Happy baking!
How to substitute White Lily flour:
According to Ruth Reichl (among other biscuit bakers), “00” pasta flour is a great substitute for White Lily flour. Regular old cake flour can also be substituted. In a pinch, you can use all-purpose, though expect the biscuits to turn out differently. Note that while the low protein content in White Lily flour leads to outstanding cakey-style biscuits, you can still make great biscuits with any flour!
Use fresh baking powder:
I.e. ideally not more than 3-4 months old. You can test to see if your baking powder is still good by dropping a pinch in warm water. If it foams, it’s good to go; if not, buy some new baking powder!
Butter vs. shortening:
Shortening tends to be easier to work with in biscuit (and pie) dough since it’s basically 100% fat whereas butter contains some water and milk solids–so it’s better at preventing gluten formation. The result? You’ll likely get tender, cakey and slightly crumbly biscuits while butter tends to lead to taller, crispier biscuits with a sturdier crumb and flakier layers. Butter also helps lead to more golden, browned biscuits due to milk solids, whereas shortening is 100% so it doesn’t caramelize in the same way To get the same browned appearance, you can brush shortening biscuits with a butter or egg wash.
Use high-fat liquids for more tender biscuits:
Can you use milk instead of heavy cream or low-fat buttermilk instead of full-fat buttermilk? Sure, but your biscuits will be slightly tougher due to the lower fat content. King Arthur Flour did a great experiment that shows the difference in browning that different liquids can cause. (But also: don’t try subbing heavy cream for buttermilk because that can lead to weird results.)
Why buttermilk is crucial:
Buttermilk biscuits have become so popular principally because buttermilk a) helps add tanginess and b) the acidity in buttermilk reacts with baking soda to add lift. It’s just an undeniably tasty combination with butter.
Use very cold ingredients:
Like, frozen is ideal. The goal is to prevent the fat from melting into the flour in order to keep little pods of fat in the dough that will steam and turn into flaky layers in the oven. Warmer ingredients mean fat will melt more quickly into the flour = i.e., no pods of fat, and fewer layers.
Handle ingredients as little as possible:
For the same reason as above, to keep the body heat from your hands from melting ingredients and to keep from overworking the dough.
Freeze biscuits while oven preheats:
Again, another way to keep the butter/ingredients as cold as possible before baking.
If you’re using a cutter, simply press straight down and pull back up–don’t twist it when cutting out biscuits as it seals the edges and deters rising.
Place the biscuits closer together for a taller rise (will touch) or farther apart for browned edges
Use parchment paper, not silpats:
Unfortunately, silpats don’t allow the biscuit bottoms to breathe as easily, according to Stella Parks. Parchment paper is the best option (and you can wipe it off and reuse it after! My friend stores her parchment paper in the freezer to prevent funky odors from developing.)
For taller biscuits, place biscuits close together:
As long as you don’t mind softer, break apart sides, placing biscuits close together so that they touch when baking helps them rise bigger and taller.
Use a very hot oven:
Some recipes preheat the oven super hot and then bake the biscuits at a slightly lower temperature–this initial blast of heat helps the biscuits rise quickly.
If you try any of these recipes, feel free to tag me on instagram and use the hashtag #pancakeprincessbakeoff. I’d love to see your creations!