Biscuits are many things to many people—round and flat cookies to the British, skinny and crunchy accompaniments to coffee for the Italians—but at Kahnfections in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, the biscuit is something else. Chef-owner Judy Kahn makes a buttermilk biscuit that is familiar to American eaters. And when Kahn turns it into a sandwich special, stuffed with lox and egg, it turns into a destination-worthy treat.
Kahn prefers buttermilk to cream biscuits for the rich, tangy flavor imparted by the cultured milk. To make the perfect biscuits, Kahn offers a few key pieces of advice for how to make fluffy, not dense, biscuits at home.
Start with Great Ingredients
In addition to sweet cream unsalted butter and Swiss cheese, each cut into tiny pieces, Kahn’s biscuits include fresh buttermilk, green onions, and fresh dill. “The fat content is not the issue,” Kahn says. What is important is to “make sure all the ingredients taste good before you start.”
A Few Techniques to Make Better Biscuit Dough
Start by adding any inclusions—dill and ground black pepper, in this case—to the dry flour, then incorporate the butter and cheese. Cutting the butter and cheese into very small pieces is important to evenly distribute the fats throughout the flour, but Kahn does leave a few larger pieces. “The larger pieces add flakes and layers,” she says. Her bakery team uses a pastry blender—that U-shaped tool with slats across the bottom—a tool perfectly designed to evenly distribute the fats through the dough.
Then chill the fatted flour. Yes, this dough needs to chillax. Seriously, after mixing in the salt and leavening, put the dough in the fridge alongside the other, as yet unmixed ingredients: buttermilk and egg yolks. “You want everything as cold as possible,” says Kahn. It keeps the butter from melting when mixing and folding but, more importantly, “if the butter melts, you are not going to get those layers,” says Kahn. Put everything in the fridge overnight and let that dough rest.
Fold like You Mean It. Fold like a Boss
After mixing in the cold liquids (buttermilk and egg yolks), folding the dough helps build flaky layers. Kahn teaches her crew to do a series of folds and pats, usually four sequences—fold, pat, fold, pat, fold, pat, fold, pat—to bring the dough together, eliminate dry spots, and get the dough ready for cutting.
Round cutters are traditional and many bakeries stick with this tried and true shape. Not Kahn. After cutting, “rounds leave a bunch of scraps which you have to re-roll. You lose the layers when you re-roll and the finished product is not as flaky.” Kahn flattens the dough into a huge rectangle and cuts square biscuits. No re-rolling. No waste. To avoid disturbing the layers you just worked so hard to craft, Kahn recommends cutting straight down into the dough with your pastry knife. Leave the angles to cakes.
Round Biscuit Cutter Set, $14.95 at Sur la Table
Five sizes of round cutters for all your baking needs.
Get Thy Biscuits to an Oven
Kahn starts the biscuits in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven and reduces the temperature to 350 halfway through cooking. This baking process allows the dough to “rise nicely and brown up but cook all the way through without scorching or drying out.” Once the biscuits have cooled slightly, stuff with scrambled egg, a bit of red onion, lox, and lemon aioli to achieve a near-nirvana mix of savory, sweet, and crunchy. Or stop in at Kahn’s shop on a quiet, industrial street to experience her version. It is worth the trip.