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All Rise

The wedding of biscuit to sweet potato is an occasion of culinary bliss.

By Adam Ried
March 8, 2009
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I've never met a biscuit I didn't like, but sweet potato biscuits are among my favorites. Made well, they possess a cheerful, sunny hue, a tender, moist texture (think butter cake with a little more muscle), and the earthy essence of the sweet potatoes themselves.

As I see it, there are three keys to great sweet potato biscuits. First is how you cook the sweets. Many recipes will have you boil them, but I prefer to roast them to intensify their flavor (it takes a little longer than boiling, but it is time well spent). Second, I recommend using a lot of sweet potato. Where many recipes call for ¾ to 1 cup, I pack mine with 1 ½ cups. Last, using two leaveners -- baking powder and baking soda -- and cutting the biscuits thick, about 1 inch, helps them rise tall in the oven. However tempting it may be to scarf down these biscuits straight from the oven, their flavor and texture are best once they have cooled a little, though they should certainly be eaten fresh.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Makes 10 to 12 2½-inch biscuits

Handle the soft, supple dough gently, taking care to neither overwork it in the food processor nor over-knead it. Try to cut out as many biscuits as possible in the first round, as those cut from re-kneaded scraps will have a rougher appearance.

1medium-large sweet potato, about 14 ounces

¼ cup cold buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for patting out dough and cutting biscuits

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Pinch cayenne

Salt and black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into roughly ½-inch cubes

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet (roughly 18 by 13 inches) with parchment paper or a nonstick (silicone) liner, and set aside. Prick the sweet potato in several spots with a fork, place it on a small baking sheet, and bake until fully tender, about 1¼ hours. Cut the potato open, peel back the skin (to release steam), cool it to room temperature (about 40 minutes), peel off the skin, and roughly mash the flesh (you should have about 1½ cups). Add the buttermilk, mix very well, and set aside.

In a food processor, process 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper until well blended (making sure the brown sugar is thoroughly broken down and incorporated). Scatter the butter pieces evenly over the flour mixture in the food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 6 2-second pulses. Add the sweet potato mixture in dollops in several spots over the flour and butter mixture, and pulse until the flour and sweet potato mixtures combine and just begin to come together into a light-orange dough mass, 10 to 15 2-second pulses.

If you turned off the oven earlier, reheat it to 425 degrees. Generously flour a clean work surface, turn out the dough, and sprinkle flour over the top of the dough. Knead the dough gently, folding it in half and rotating it 3 or 4 times, just until it is uniform and cohesive (try to keep the kneading to a minimum). Sprinkle a little bit more flour on the work surface and dough to prevent sticking, if necessary, and gently pat the dough into a circle that is roughly 8 inches in diameter and 1 inch high (the height is more important than the shape or diameter, which may vary).

Dip a sharp 2½-inch biscuit cutter into flour and using brisk, decisive, straight-down punches (avoid rotating or twisting the cutter in the dough), cut out rounds of dough as close to one another as possible (to maximize the number of rounds), dipping the cutter into flour before each new cut. Transfer the dough rounds to the lined baking sheet, positioning them about 1 inch apart. Push the dough scraps together and knead them gently once or twice until cohesive. Pat out the dough until it is 1 inch high, dip the cutter into flour, and in the same manner as before, cut out as many dough rounds as possible, and transfer them to the baking sheet with the first batch.

Bake until the biscuits are puffed, light golden on top, and deep brown on the bottom, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking time for even cooking. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack, cool for about 15 minutes, and serve warm.

VARIATIONS

Roasted Garlic Sweet Potato Biscuits

Remove the papery outer skin of a large head of garlic, cut off the top ¼ inch to expose the cloves, place on a piece of foil, drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and seal the garlic in the foil. Bake with sweet potatoes until garlic cloves are tender, about 1 hour. When cool enough to touch, squeeze cloves from skins (you should have about ¼ cup). Follow recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits, adding garlic to flour mixture along with sweet potato-buttermilk mixture.

Sausage and Pecan Sweet Potato Biscuits In a medium skillet set over medium-low heat, cook 8 ounces pork sausage ( bulk or links, meat squeezed out of casings), using a wooden spoon to break it into fine bits, until it loses its raw color, about 7 minutes. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sausage is browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Follow the recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits, sprinkling sausage and ¾ cup roughly chopped, toasted pecans over dough before kneading it; incorporate the sausage and pecans during kneading.

Indian Pudding Sweet Potato

Biscuits Follow recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits, with these changes: Reduce sweet potato to 1¼ cups, flour to 1¹/3 cups, buttermilk to 2 tablespoons, salt to ½ teaspoon, and omit brown sugar, cayenne, and black pepper. Before preparing the flour mixture, in a small bowl, mix 2/3 cup cornmeal, 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and ¼ cup molasses to blend; allow to rest for 15 minutes, then add mashed sweet potato and mix to blend. To the flour in the food processor, add 1¼ teaspoons ground ginger, ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. Knead the dough a little more than in basic recipe, folding it in half and rotating it 9 or 10 times.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

Kitchen Aide

Twisted Biscuits

When cutting out rounds of dough, many cooks (including me) have a natural, unnoticed tendency to rotate the biscuit cutter slightly against the work surface before lifting it up and out of the dough. This unconscious move can cause the biscuits to rise unevenly in the oven. They'll taste fine, but they'll look lopsided. Punching the cutter into the dough straight and true, and lifting it up and out without the twist, helps the biscuits rise evenly. -- A.R.

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