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Butter swim biscuits are ‘buttery bliss in a baking dish’

Butter Swim Biscuits are baked directly in melted butter. They come together in 30 minutes or so.  (Rey Lopez for The Washington Post)
By Becky Krystal Washington Post

I haven’t met a biscuit I didn’t like, but these Butter Swim Biscuits from Erika Council were love at first bite.

The recipe comes from Council’s “Still We Rise,” subtitled “A Love Letter to the Southern Biscuit,” which is one of my favorite topics for a cookbook to come out … possibly ever.

The Butter Swim Biscuits immediately caught my eye for a number of reasons, first and foremost their appearance. Look how lofty, fluffy and golden they are! They also don’t require cutting cold butter into flour, which can be more time-consuming and stressful than you want while you’re still rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. And the speed with which these biscuits come together and get onto the table – just a smidgen more than half an hour – means they are exactly the kind of thing you can whip up after rolling out of bed and then sit down and savor while you sip a hot beverage.

“Butter swims are close to my favorite way to bake biscuits,” writes Council, the proprietor of Atlanta’s Bomb Biscuit Co. and granddaughter of soul food chef Mildred “Mama Dip” Council, who ran a legendary restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “Call it buttery bliss in a baking dish.”

The dough – so wet you could really call it a batter – gets spread over hot butter melted in a 450-degree oven, which results in the delightful contrast of the tender biscuit interior and crisp, practically fried edges that are reminiscent of the border of focaccia. Taste-wise, I was immediately struck by the leap my mind took to Popeyes and the Roy Rogers of my youth. And, yes, that’s a good thing.

The unique process extends to how the dough is cut, directly in the pan, as opposed to on a floured counter. Your lines may fill back in as you score the soft dough into nine squares, but it’s fine to take another pass through to separate the dough a little more. Wiping your knife in between cuts makes this a bit easier. But don’t worry about keeping the squares distinct, as they’ll bake back into each other and just leave a grid of shallow indentations helping guide you when you cut the biscuits after baking.

The biscuits are indulgent, so I never felt the need to eat them with more butter. A swipe of jam or a drizzle of honey would make fine adornments, though most of the time I ate them as is to best appreciate their stunning simplicity.

Butter Swim Biscuits

Adapted from “Still We Rise” by Erika Council (Clarkson Potter, 2023).

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

2¾ cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons fine salt (see headnote)

2 cups well-shaken whole or low-fat buttermilk

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Add the butter to a 9-inch square baking dish or 9-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the oven while it preheats. (If your oven is very slow to heat up, wait a few minutes to put in the baking dish so the butter doesn’t burn. Just keep an eye on it as it melts.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt until combined. Add the buttermilk and stir gently with a spatula just until combined. Do not overmix.

Remove the hot baking dish or skillet from the oven and gently pour the batter over the melted butter. Use a knife or offset spatula to spread the batter evenly in the dish or skillet.

Quickly and confidently, use a knife to “cut” the dough into nine squares (they’ll have round edges in the skillet). If the lines close up, go back and take another pass through, though you shouldn’t expect them to remain completely distinct. It can help to wipe or rinse off the knife in between cuts.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, or until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown and the edges crisp.

Following your scored lines, cut and serve.

Storage: The biscuits are best warm out of the oven. Store for up to three days in a container at room temperature or in the freezer for up to two months, and reheat in the oven or toaster oven until warmed through.