Buttermilk Biscuit Level: Expat

Sometimes being at home sick with a viral lung infection is a good thing.

I relaxed a bit, spent some time with Alessio and Ada, only got 3 calls from my boss (who joked that I got more done being at home then at work….the ol’grain-of-truth- joke, well played) and tidied up a bit.

At a certain point in the afternoon I decided that I wanted to make buttermilk biscuits. Don’t ask me why or for what reason, but the idea of a warm buttermilk biscuit with butter and strawberry jam just seemed like the perfect way to spend an hour.

Now, I don’t want to talk about the recipe, or my technique, or anything like that. This is less about the end result and more about the journey.

I think that people sometimes get a very romanticized idea of what living abroad is like. Especially in Italy. They envision rolls of hay in a sun drenched field with a tree-lined road leading to a rustic villa in the distance. Romantic walks along the beach followed by a moonlit drive to a hidden restaurant in the mountains on the back of a Vespa. Well, OK….it is like that…..but you never imagine the everyday life that comes with being abroad. Buying groceries, going to the Doctor, changing your residency, getting your license, making Buttermilk Biscuits.

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What else can you do with biscuits? Create famous Italian landscapes! Leaning Tower anyone?


After I decided to make biscuits, I hopped on Google to search for a recipe. I knew that I wanted Buttermilk Biscuits, but I also knew that I only had about 2 cups milk left in the house so I wanted to save as much as I could. I did find a recipe that used no milk, but I quickly relegated it to my ‘recipes to try another time’ list and decided to just go with the milk version. I found a very good one here. It was everything that I was looking for short of calling my mother up in the middle of the night to jot down her recipe and send it to me by email.

So, first things first – check the ingredients.

  • 2 cups flour – check
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder – Mom brought it for me 3 years ago, I bet it’s still OK – check
  • 1 teaspoon salt – check
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda – has to still be good it came with the Baking Powder – check
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter – Italy’s default – check
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk – definitely NOT, but I can improvise – check

Knowing that I had all my ingredients in order I went to town. I got out my measuring cups (Ameri-Canadian of course), my teaspoon, a bowl, took the fruit off the top of my microwave because it has to double as a convection oven (let’s not even discuss THIS!) and got to work whisking (pronounced hhhhhwwwwwwwiiiiiisking just to be more fun) my dry ingredients.

Now, the buttermilk, what do I do about that? Run into the arms of Google who is waiting for me in my living room. Ah! I can make my own buttermilk (they don’t have it here) using vinegar and milk. Perfect. Do you think wine vinegar will work? Sure! Why not! Run back to kitchen.

OK, now, ready to get the cold, sliced, butter in there.

But wait – how much is 7 tablespoons of butter anyways? In real terms, terms that I know, terms that I have here, like grams or even cups! Run to the living room to check.

OK, fine – my good friend Google tells me that there are 8 tablespoons of butter to a stick. And I have one nice stick here, therefore there are 8 tablespoons and I can just cut a bit of the end and go ahead.

Wait! What is that last response to the user’s question buried under the spasm inducing advertising.

8 tablespoons to the stick ALSO depends on how big the stick is? Dammit! They’re right! OK, no problem, I’ve got a 250g stick, so that’s abooouuutttttt…..I have no idea. Oh wait – OK, one tablespoon of butter is about 10 grams. Phew! Got that figured out. Run back to the kitchen. Measure out the butter and add it to the dry ingredients.

Now what? Oh yes, cut it in with a pastry cutter. Dear Lord. Wouldn’t you know it, I don’t have one. Do you think a potato masher will do? Wait. I know. Run to living room.

Ahhhhh – two knives you say? In a little ‘x’ you say? Alright, got it! Run back to kitchen.

OK, build those arm muscles. Not the big, nice ones, those small supporting ones that you need in order to really get that butter into small pea sized balls. Criss cross those knives until your arms ache. Then 5 minutes more. Ok, done. Next?

Make a well and pour the buttermilk in. Easy. Check.

Mix 15-20 times then turn onto floured work surface.


“Work surface”? I’m sure that my scant 30cm of work surface is not what this chef had in mind. But you know what they say, when in Rome…..OK, so dough turned out. I’m kneading, I’m folding, I’m rotating counterclockwise, I’m rotating clockwise. I roll it out, I use a cup and make biscuits being careful not to twist the cup to get the biscuit out so I don’t “seal” the edges. I have got this buttermilk biscuit thing down!

OK, carefully take my biscuits placed oh so nicely onto my slightly-too-large silicon sheet to the slightly-too-small microwave cum convection oven; wait.

Wait a bit more.

And a bit more.

I ended up with 9 beautiful biscuits that took twice as long as the cooking time indicated (convection oven, we will NOT discuss this!) and were eaten in less than 24 hours by myself, my little Italian, and my great, big, Italian who normally scoffs at my bread….or “bread” rather.

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It does not get much better than a red and white checked dishtowel with warm biscuits in it.

A very, very, loose Colosseo. Maybe it was in her younger days... ;)

A very, very, loose Colosseo. Maybe it was in her younger days… 😉


Now at this point you might be asking yourself, “yes, but what does this have to do with living abroad?” and well, you’re right, I did digress a little there. I stretched the tensile of my metaphor so tight that it almost snapped, like a <physical object here> stuck between a rock and a hard place suddenly loosed of its earthly confines now free to rocket towards the heavens.  😉

And so, for this, my daily struggle to bring a bit of “home” home to me, whether it be by numerous searches on Google for “how to substitute <object impossible to find or extremely expensive to purchase in Italy>”, or sheer surprise and joy when having located an Asian market in the middle of Milan by chance that has sriracha, or stocking up on 4 jars of peanut butter because they’re “on sale” (I don’t call $5 for a small jar a good deal normally), I call this: Buttermilk Biscuit Level: Expat.

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Buttermilk Biscuit Level: Expat

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