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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.