Writing a food blog can be a funny thing because you often feel inclined to share The Very Best ____, The Real Top Banana. But some things don’t necessarily warrant a superlative. They fall into a separate although no less worthy space. So today I’m here to tell you that these are not the best biscuits I’ve ever had. Sometimes it’s nice to have a few recipes in your back pocket that everyone likes, that require no fancy equipment (not even a rolling pin), are simple, easily dressed up, and even holiday-worthy. In this increasingly busy, harried season we’re dipping our toes into, I’m telling you: a trusty whole grain biscuit and velvety sweet potato butter beats the endless search to find The Very Best any day of the week.
Biscuits are not new to this blog. I’ve made Giant Buttermilk Biscuits, Herbed Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits and Casselberry Biscuits, which really fall into a different camp altogether. But I had yet to try making biscuits with 100% whole grain flour, and have long wanted to try baking them in a cast iron skillet as I’d heard the bottoms get nice and crisp while the middle remains tender. Reporting back: true story.
What I love about these is they’re just a pat out, cut and bake situation. I’d say they’re a bit sturdier than a biscuit made with all purpose flour — they have a little more heft, but they’re still perfectly tender and great with butter, your favorite jam or my new go-to: gingered sweet potato butter. I first stumbled upon the recipe for this sweet potato butter in the Toast and Jam cookbook, which has all manner of baked goods, jams and spreads (and I’d say the recipes veer towards healthier baked goods like what I often do here, so you may really like it). The author, Sarah Owens, promises that the color and flavor is akin to autumn in a jar, and she’s onto something. This stuff deserves a superlative.
Much like the biscuits, the sweet potato butter requires little fuss (although you will have to get out your food processor). There’s no thermometer or canning involved, and you can store it in the refrigerator for up to one month. I can attest to the fact that it’s also as good stirred into plain yogurt or on top of oatmeal as it is slathered on biscuits.
Maybe you’ll bake these for Thanksgiving, or maybe you’ll make them for breakfast this weekend. Maybe you’ll just bookmark them for when you finally have some downtime at home, which — given some changes at work which I’ll tell you about soon — I’m hoping to have more of soon. Lately I’ve been particularly interested in reading and thinking about other people’s homes, desks, kitchens — how we all spend our days, especially as it relates to meals, writing, and motherhood so I thought you may enjoy a peak, too. Best, of course, with a biscuit.
The Rooms Where Writers Work – The New York Times
What Dinner Looks Like Across the USA – Huck Magazine (via Joy the Baker)
Motherland – PBS; on the Busiest Maternity Hospital in the World
When the World Feels Awful – Design for Mankind
Sweet Potato Butter lightly adapted from: Toast and Jam
For the Biscuits:
For the Sweet Potato Butter: (Makes about 2 cups / 1 pint)
Make the Biscuits:
Preheat the oven to 450 F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add the butter and toss to coat. Either using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients (with your fingers, pinch the butter into the flour repeatedly until the mixture resembles large crumbs; it’s ok if some of the mixture is as large as small peas – it doesn’t all have to be uniform). Stir in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until the dough gathers together. If you need a little extra buttermilk, add it 1 tablespoon at a time.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a 1 1/2 inch-thick round. Using a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into rounds (dip the cutter in flour in between to avoid sticking). If you’ve got biscuit scraps, repeat to try and use them up. Arrange biscuits in a 12-inch cast iron skillet as close together as possible. Sprinkle tops with sea salt. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.
Make the Sweet Potato Butter:
Place the sweet potato, apple, grapefruit juice and lemon juice in a food processor and process on high until the mixture is relatively smooth.
Transfer to a medium saucepan, stir in the remaining ingredients, and place the pan over medium heat. Cook down for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture will bubble and hiss quite a bit. Continue cooking until it thickens and smells caramelized. Stir often to avoid burning or sticking. Transfer the sweet potato butter back to the food processor and process until smooth and velvety. Spoon into clean jars and refrigerate for up to a month.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.