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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.