The Battle of the Buttermilk Biscuits


Biscuit #1: Island Creek Oyster Bar

About a month ago, I took my parents to the highly (over)rated Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston. I’ve never met anyone who loves fish as much as my mom, so the supposed best seafood restaurant in Boston was the obvious choice for dinner. But you know something’s wrong when your favorite parts of the meal involve beef and biscuits…and no seafood.

But oh my god, those biscuits. We ordered one as a side dish and it was large enough for three people to enjoy as much as they wanted (as in, my parents each had maybe two bites and I ate the rest). The layers were delicate and pull-apart buttery, and the entire biscuit had been glazed in a delicious honey-rosemary mixture. After ordering our regrettably dry and chewy strawberry shortcake doughnut dessert (sounds good in theory, but in practice involved us trying to use our spoons as knives and sending doughnut chunks flying across the table), I wished that we had just ordered another biscuit instead.

Of course I had to see if the recipe was online. Immediately. Breaking fancy restaurant/basic human decency etiquette, I whipped out my phone and found the recipe. Saveur had posted a recipe, but looking at the ratio of ingredients, I felt that the ratio of liquid to flour was off, as in, I had no idea how 1 3/4 cup of buttermilk was supposed to hydrate an entire 5 cups of flour and make a cohesive dough. So instead of sleeping like a normal person would at 2am, I decided to do a comparison – Island Creek Oyster Bar’s biscuits (according to Saveur) v.s. Smitten Kitchen’s favorite buttermilk biscuits.

Smitten Kitchen biscuits

Biscuit #2: Smitten Kitchen

The verdict? Well, as predicted, more buttermilk was needed for the ICOB biscuits. I used about 2 cups of buttermilk and still, the dough was dry and did not hold together well. I also found the biscuits to be surprisingly salty. But they ended up looking pretty cool, and with the sweet honey glaze (which ended up getting soaked into the biscuits and not really glazing them), they still edible, but nowhere near amazing (UPDATE: I tinkered a little with the ingredient ratio and now they’re amazing). For the Smitten Kitchen recipe, I used the ICOB method of grating frozen butter, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. The biscuits did not brown for some reason, but the layers looked beautiful and the biscuit itself was delicately sweet, fluffy, and light. They went perfectly with a dollop of jam.

However, neither recipe came close to the near-religious experience of eating the Island Creek Oyster Bar’s real biscuits. I have a feeling that Jeremy Sewall (the chef at ICOB) probably weighs out his ingredients rather than use cup measurements, and something got lost in translation in the Saveur recipe. Next time I need a fun 4am activity, I’ll experiment again :)

Buttermilk Biscuit #1: Island Creek Oyster Bar Biscuits (as written by Saveur) – makes 6 really large biscuits or 12 large biscuits

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp salt
5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
16 tbsp unsalted butter (10 tbsp frozen, 6 tbsp room temperature)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (I upped this to 2 cups)
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 400F.

Whisk flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a bowl. Using a box grater, grate 10tbsp butter into flour mixture, then gently mix together with your hands. Add buttermilk, and gently fold to combine to form a soft dough. (Yeah…this is where I tried the “gently fold” thing, then then “gently knead”, then “do anything to incorporate the flour”.)

Turn dough onto a floured surface, pat into a square with about 2in thickness. Cut into six squares, place 2-3in apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, then bake until puffed and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

In the meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a small pan, then mix with honey and rosemary. Brush over hot biscuits, then return to oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Buttermilk Biscuit #2: “My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits” (adapted from Smitten Kitchen) – makes 12 small biscuits

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
12 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small chunks (I froze the butter, then grated it)
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl. Using a box grater, grate frozen butter into bowl and mix gently with your hands. Add buttermilk and stir until large, craggy clumps form. Using hands, knead just until mixture holds together.

Turn dough onto a floured surface, then shape into a square with about 1/2-3/4in thickness. Cut into six squares, place about 2in apart on baking sheet, then bake until golden brown on top, about 12-15 minutes.


One thought on “The Battle of the Buttermilk Biscuits

  1. Pingback: Dreams Come True | kitchen whimsies

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