These heavenly beauties are my ultimate homesickness cure. If you’ve never tried an Angel Biscuit, imagine a fresh loaf of bread meeting a savory scone. I can’t think of a better description for their unique texture and flavor. The outside of the biscuit is crusty, golden brown and glistening with butter. The interior is soft and airy. They are deliciously yeasty and slightly sweet with a pleasant buttermilk tang.
I whip up a batch of these for most holiday meals. They were a perfect accompaniment to our Easter ham. They’re ideal for parties, for brunch, or to serve with soup or a Sunday roast. Oh, and how could I forget ham biscuits? Obviously.
It’s a bit of a mystery as to where and when the Angel Biscuit originated. The recipe started popping up in local cook books in the American South in the mid-20th century. The soft, fluffy texture can be attributed to three types of raising agents – baking powder, baking soda and yeast. This is a great recipe to try if you are new to baking with yeast because it is fail proof. The biscuits ALWAYS rise! I promise.
Aren’t they gorgeous?
My version is adapted from one of my all-time favorite cook books, The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. I’ve tried many other recipes and I’ve also tried going it alone, but why keep trying when you find one that’s perfect? The secret ingredient is lard. It creates a lightness that you just don’t get with butter and it doesn’t over power the flavor of the buttermilk.
My favorite thing about this recipe? The dough can rest tightly covered in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can mix a batch in advance, leave it in the fridge and then use it over a few days. They need some time to rise, but I like that I can prepare the rest of the meal while this happens. The biscuits only take 10 to 12 minutes to bake, so you don’t have to wait long once they go in the oven.
I’ve provided step-by-step photos and a how-to video below. I want you to have the same results in your own kitchen as I do at home. Let’s make some biscuits!
You need lard, fast action dried yeast, all-purpose (plain) flour, granulated sugar, homemade baking powder*, baking soda (bi-carb), fine sea salt and buttermilk.
It’s important the lard is chilled and the buttermilk is room temperature. I usually take the buttermilk out of the fridge about an hour before I start. The lard should be cold so it cuts into the dry ingredients easily without melting into them. Room temperature buttermilk is easier to incorporate than cold buttermilk, so you’re less likely to over work the dough. Both of these factors are key to that soft texture.
*A brief note on baking powder – you can use commercial baking powder, however, I prefer to use homemade for recipes that use a large quantity like scones, biscuits and quick breads. This avoids the metallic aftertaste that comes with the commercial versions. It’s so easy, you only need three ingredients and five minutes. Get the recipe here.
I start by cutting 225g (1 cup) of cold lard into large cubes and measure it into a small bowl using a digital scale. I do this first so the lard gets an extra few minutes of chill time in the fridge. Lard softens quickly and we need it to be nice and firm when we cut it into the flour mixture.
I always weigh my ingredients when baking so I get consistent results every time. It’s difficult to be precise when using measuring cups for dry ingredients and fats. It’s very easy to over measure, which could lead to incorrect proportions and a disappointing end product. I don’t want that to happen to you! This Salter digital scale was a very affordable buy on Amazon. Well worth the investment if you bake! The next step is to activate one package of fast action dried yeast with 1/4 cup (60 ml) of warm water. I hold my hand under running tap water and wait until it is warmed to just above body temperature – it shouldn’t be hot, you should be able to hold your hand comfortably under the water.
You can always use an instant-read thermometer to double check the water is at the right temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius). Put the dried yeast in a small bowl, pour in the warm water and mix lightly with your fingers. Set the mixture aside while you mix the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, measure out 625g (5 cups) of plain or all-purpose flour…
Then add 1/4 cup (52g) of granulated sugar…
Followed by 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of baking (bi-carbonate) soda and 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt.
Whisk the mixture for about 30 seconds until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
Grab the lard from the fridge and toss it into the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon or a pastry cutter, lightly coat the lard with the flour. I do this so the lard doesn’t stick to the cutter or my fingers as I work it into the flour.
Quickly incorporate the flour into the dry ingredients. I normally use a pastry cutter for this, but fingers work just as well! Push down and twist the cutter or rub the lard and flour between your finger tips. Do this until you have a good mixture of both pea-sized pieces and breadcrumb-sized pieces.
Pour two cups (470ml) of buttermilk into a glass measuring jug and add the yeast/water mixture that you set aside earlier. Give this a quick stir to combine. Use the end of a wooden spoon to make a large well in the flour mixture. Pour in the buttermilk. Stir until the mixture is just combined. It should still be very sticky.
Lightly flour the working surface and your hands. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and knead delicately 6 to 8 times until thoroughly combined. It will still be a little sticky – this is ok! You don’t want to over-work the dough. Split the dough in half. Set one half aside and the other on the floured surface.
Use a rolling pin or pat with your hands to form the dough into a disc that measures roughly 1/2 inch thick.
Use a 2 1/2 inch round cutter to cut out the biscuits. The top of a drinking glass will also work. Now, I’ve heard a few legends about the best way to remove the cutter – pull it straight up or twist. I admit I twist my cutter a bit to remove the biscuit because it’s stickier than a traditional buttermilk biscuit dough. I’m not convinced it matters that much. I’ll leave it up to you to decide!
Transfer the biscuits to the parchment-lined baking sheet. It’s important to leave a bit of room on all sides so they have room to rise.
Move the baking sheet to a warm place – I normally leave mine near the oven while it’s preheating. Cover loosely with cling film and allow the biscuits to rise for 40 to 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C, 210 degrees C for a fan oven).
Bake for about 10 minutes until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown. Look at all those flaky layers! I want one NOW.
Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven. This final touch makes all the difference. I usually use a good salted butter for this step.
These are best enjoyed hot out of the oven! I can’t resist adding a bit more salted butter to the inside. Seriously, if you’ve never made a good Southern biscuit, now’s the time!
*Note: The angel biscuit dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Allow the cut biscuits to rise for about an hour before baking.
Here’s the how-to video!
- 1 cup (8 ounces or 225 grams) lard, chilled
- ¼ cup (60 ml) water, warmed to body temperature
- 1 package (1/4 ounce, 7 grams) dried, fast action yeast
- 5 cups (1 lb. 6 oz or 625 grams) plain, all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces or 50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon homemade baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups (470 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- I like to start with the lard first. Measure out 1 cup (or 225g) of lard and cut into large cubes. The lard should be nice and cold when you cut it into the flour mixture, so place the cubed lard into a bowl and store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
- Warm some tap water to just above body temperature (100 degrees F, 37.8 degrees C), measure out ¼ cup (60 ml) and place in a small bowl. Add the dried, fast action yeast, give the mixture a quick mix with your fingers and leave to dissolve for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder (homemade if you can!), baking soda and fine sea salt in a large bowl. Whisk to combine for about 30 seconds so all of the ingredients are incorporated well.
- Grab the lard from the fridge and add to the flour mixture. Use a wooden spoon to lightly coat the lard cubes with the flour.
- Quickly incorporate the cold lard into the dry ingredients. I use a pastry cutter as I find this to be the fastest method, but you can certainly use your fingers. Push down and twist the cutter until you have a good mixture of both large pea-sized pieces and small breadcrumb-sized pieces.
- Pour the buttermilk into a glass measuring jug and add the yeast/water mixture. Give this a quick stir to combine.
- Use the end of the wooden spoon to make a large well in the flour mixture. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until the mixture is just combined. It should still be very sticky.
- Lightly flour the working surface and your hands. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and knead delicately 6 to 8 times until it is thoroughly combined. It will still be a little sticky - this is ok! You don't want to over-work the dough.
- Split the dough in half. Set one half aside and the other on the floured surface. Use a rolling pin or pat with your hands to form the dough into a disc that measures roughly ½ inch thick.
- Use a 2½ inch drinking glass or round cutter to cut out the biscuits.
- Transfer the biscuits to the parchment-lined baking sheet. It's important to leave a bit of room on all sides so they have room to rise.
- Move the baking sheet to a warm place - I normally leave mine near the oven while it's preheating. Cover loosely with cling film and allow the biscuits to rise for 40 to 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C, 210 degrees C for a fan oven) and bake for about 10 minutes until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven.
- These are best enjoyed hot out of the oven!
- *Note: The angel biscuit dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Allow the cut biscuits to rise for about an hour before baking.