From the Kitchen of Halstad House: Esther’s Buttermilk Biscuits

A tiny glimpse into the life of Grace Halstad…

After a physically and emotionally exhausting day, Grace finally has a chance to lower herself into a rocking chair with a nice cup of hot tea.  She leans back, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. Ah…

Suddenly, reality hits with a resounding smack and she jumps to her feet, splashing hot liquid down the front of her apron. She doesn’t have a plan for supper. She doesn’t have meat roasting in the oven. She doesn’t have stew simmering on the stove. What she does have are hungry boarders who will pull up to the table shortly and they will be expecting a proper meal.

As if to emphasize the situation, her four-year-old daughter, Allie, races into the kitchen and wrinkles her nose.“When’s supper? My tummy’s makin’ noises.”

Grace looks around the room. Think, girl. Think.“Okay. There are jars of stewed chicken in the root cellar. Canned green beans, too. We have pickles and cheese. Right—we’re fine. I’ll make a creamy chicken gravy and serve it over biscuits.”

At those words, Allie scrunches her face in dismay.“You’re gonna make biscuits?”She’s had her mother’s biscuits before.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Grace’s childhood friend, Ethan, stops in for a visit. At the sight of Grace’s frazzled appearance, he offers to help in any way he can.

Allie tugs on his sleeve. “Can you make biscuits?”

Grace’s chagrin turns to delight when he nods his head.

“A cranky Army cook taught me to make some mean biscuits,”he says. Ethan volunteers to whip up a batch. And whip them up, he does.

When he slides the fluffy golden biscuits from the oven, Allie is thrilled. “They look just like Auntie Esther’s!”

Pulling a biscuit apart, Ethan slathers butter and honey on one half and hands it to Grace.

She holds it under her nose, sniffs, and opens her mouth for a bite.“Mm…mm.”After the first scrumptious taste, she closes her eyes and sighs.“It’s so unfair.”

I can commiserate with my character, Grace. Mastering the knack of making good biscuits always eluded me—especially ones that could be dubbed “scrumptious.” Mine have always been edible, certainly. Golden—yes. But could you pull one apart and see light, fluffy layers? Ha. (Like Ethan, my husband’s biscuits were far-and-away better than mine. Sigh.)

In writing Halstad House, I bestowed my biscuit-making lack of prowess on my main character. (Sorry, Grace.) But then, I needed someone who made great biscuits. Enter Grace’s sister, Esther.

Now, I just needed a never-fail recipe. My friend Megan is known as the master biscuit maker in her extended family. Her tried-and-true recipe became the foundation for Esther’s biscuits. I tweaked it a bit with snippets I found online and ideas from online videos. After I wrote the final recipe, several friends and family members tried it out. The biscuits were a hit. They even had light, fluffy layers!

So…(drum roll)…I now bring you Esther’s Buttermilk Biscuits. Enjoy!

Esther’s Buttermilk Biscuits


  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ cup chilled butter cut in small pieces
  • 1 cup chilled buttermilk or ⅔ cup chilled milk


  1. Preheat oven to 400℉.
  2. Grease baking sheet.
  3. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.
  4. Cut butter into dry ingredients with a pastry blender until pea-sized crumbles form.
  5. Make a well in the center and pour in buttermilk. Fold in gently.
  6. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat into a 1” thick rectangle.
  7. Fold in half and roll or pat again to make back into a 1” thick rectangle.
  8. Do this two more times. (This gives you flaky layers.)
  9. The last time, roll or pat into a 3/4” thick rectangle.
  10. Using a 2”-2 ½” wide biscuit cutter, press down to make biscuits. Do not twist.
  11. Place biscuits on the prepared baking sheet so sides touch.
  12. If desired, brush tops with melted butter or buttermilk for a more golden finish.
  13. Bake at 400℉ for 12-15 minutes.

Recipe Notes

  • Don’t overmix.
  • Use chilled butter and buttermilk.
  • Don’t twist the biscuit cutter when cutting out biscuits.
  • Place biscuits on the baking sheet so they touch.

Photographs by JenniMarie Photography

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