Which Type of Butter Works Best for Biscuits?
For most of us, butter is a big draw when it comes to biscuits. Alongside buttermilk, it's the primary flavor we taste, and arguably the most important ingredient. I recently tested some of the most popular biscuit recipes on the internet, and I learned a lot about biscuit making. With one exception, all of the recipes I tested used butter, but rarely did they specify the style of butter. As I split open what seemed like my millionth biscuit, I wondered if there was a way to improve even my favorite recipe by changing the style of butter I used. To find out, I made four more batches of my favorite biscuit recipe, each with a different style of butter. Here's what I learned.
Regular Old American Butter
I used Land O'Lakes unsalted as my point of comparison — a regular American-style butter that is widely available and very consistent. As a reminder: At its simplest, butter is the product of churning cow's milk until the solid fat separates from the liquid. That solid, called butterfat, can contain different concentrations of fat, usually measured in percentages. Land O'Lakes, like most American butter, has a butterfat percentage of about 80 percent. The remaining 20 percent of the stick is mostly water, with a couple of percentage points worth of milk solids other than fat. The biscuits I made with Land O'Lakes were perfectly delicious, flaky, and not lacking in buttery flavor — or so I thought.
Related: How to Make Homemade Butter
There are many types of European butters out there, but their main calling card is that they have a higher butterfat percentage than American butters. Kerrygold, a widely available Irish butter, is 82 percent butterfat. It didn't seem like much of a difference to me, but those two percentage points packed more fat and less water into my biscuits. I'm not sure I would have noticed the difference if I hadn't known, but the Kerrygold biscuits seemed to taste just a touch better to me.
In general, with baking you want to use unsalted butter so that you can control the amount of salt in your final product. I tend to follow this rule, but I did notice that even the biscuit recipe that I liked the best only called for a small amount of salt. When I tried the recipe with a stick of salted Land O'Lakes butter, I found that the extra salt brought out a little more flavor. My takeaway? Don't be afraid to add a little extra salt to your biscuit dough, or to use up a stick of salted butter you might have sitting around.
Cultured butter is made with live cultures — it is lightly fermented (think crème fraiche or yogurt) to create a tangy flavor. I used Vermont Creamery's unsalted cultured butter, which has a butterfat content of 82 percent, in my testing. Uncooked, the butter has a pleasant tanginess, but I found that the flavor was mostly lost in the baking process, especially in a recipe that called for buttermilk. Cultured butter also happens to be a good bit more expensive than regular butter (2 sticks cost me $6), so I will stick to slathering it on my warm, finished biscuits in the future.
My winner in the butter wars was Nellie's Free Range Slow Churned Butter. It's a European-style, American-made butter and it stood out because it has the highest butterfat of any of the sticks I tested: a whopping 84 percent. I was worried that the lack of water would create a denser biscuit (water evaporation helps biscuits achieve their lift), but I was wrong. The result was the most delicious, most buttery biscuit of all the ones I made. After more than a dozen batches, it made me excited to eat just one more biscuit — I can only imagine how I would have felt if I wasn't nearly biscuit-ed out.
At the end of the day, biscuits are buttery and delicious, no matter what type of butter you use. As long as you're using a great recipe, you're going to end up with something absolutely incredible. That said, if you're looking for a way to up your biscuit game, look for the highest butterfat percentage butter you can find — Nellie's is a great option, but different grocery stores may have different products available. I'd also advise never saying no to a slather of cultured butter for serving.