I admitted somewhere in the comments last week that I’d all but abandoned making my own pumpkin puree these days, baking instead with the always-reliable canned stuff. I think that as home cooks, it’s our tendency to want to do anything and everything that can be from scratch as such, but that I’d never been satisfied with the labor versus outcome balance of roasting pumpkin. To get a dreamy texture like one from canned pumpkin, I found I often had to roast, then puree, then sometimes cook briefly on the stove to thicken it up and often, still found the flavor inconsistent, sometimes delicious, often a little lackluster. I know, I just put you all to sleep. I promise, there is unapologetic goofiness ahead.
What I didn’t get into was my current obsession — putting sweet potato where you’d expect pumpkin. With the arrival of this guy, roasted sweet potatoes are in a near-constant rotation and so it was only a matter of time before they showed up everywhere. Whether I buy sweet potatoes from a Stop & Shop by my parents house or the bottom of a dusty crate at a farmers market on 2nd Avenue, is a remarkably consistent creature of the underground. I roast them for 45 minutes (which makes my apartment smell like bubbling sweet potato caramel, i.e. heaven), let them cool, then peel and run them through a potato ricer and have perfectly textured and flavored purees every single time. This year I’ve been on a huge sweet potato baking kick: pies, pancakes, breads and now this, biscuits.
I’ve kicked around making pumpkin or sweet potato biscuits for years, but never went for it because I imagined that they’d lack so many of the qualities I like in biscuits — firm tops, visible layers, an almost delicate crumb — that the squishy squash would make them overly cakey or soft. I have never been so happy to be wrong wrong wrong. What emerged from the oven last weekend was heady November perfection: separated layers, a plume of warm spices and an extremely moist biscuit that managed not to be heavy.
Of course, I couldn’t just stop there. That would be too… ordinary.
No, I dreamed instead of making a biscuit variation on the marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole, something I lie through my teeth each year about, pretending it’s not my thing while reaching for another blistered scoop. (One day I will learn that Thanksgiving is no time to feign high fallutin’ tastes in comfort food.) Nevertheless, in my imagination, you’d break open a warm sweet potato biscuit on Thanksgiving morning and a sigh of gooey melted marshmallow would slink from the center, surprising and delighting like a Hostess cupcake. In practice, things didn’t go as I’d hoped. Big marshmallows were too big and two tiny ones buried in the center of a biscuit disappeared — seriously, disappeared! Where did they go? I think this guy knows.
… Greedy biscuit. Marshmallows inserted in little slits on top baked and fizzled kind of unattractively. The most luck I had was rolling the biscuit dough half as thick, scattering miniature marshmallows over it, and rolling the second half on top of it and cutting the biscuits from there. It’s not ideal for re-rolling scraps but the marshmallows held up moderately well. One day, I’ll get this right (maybe a halved large marshmallow somehow adhered to the top of the biscuit?) but Thanksgiving will not wait for that day to arrive.
Nevertheless, whether you go highbrow, lowbrow or completely off your rocker (ahem) with these biscuits, they’re just perfect and they promise to behave if you let them sit at the table. Well, maybe.
New Yorkers: I’ll be on WNYC today at 5:44 p.m. (uh, you know, very soon) briefly discussing a Thanksgiving game plan for sides and sweets. I talk about starting early, getting done anything and everything you can before the big day, when the turkey and its trimmings will dominate your oven and ability to cook other things in the afternoon. High on my list of favorite do-ahead foods are biscuits, such as these. You can make them today, cut and freeze them unbaked and pop them in the oven, still frozen, 15 minutes before everyone sits down, all the more gleeful at the prospect of freshly baked biscuits, with or without a fiesty toasted marshmallow middle.
One year ago: Apple Latkes
Two years ago: Cappucino Fudge Cheesecake
Three years ago: Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones
Four years ago: Chile-Garlic Egg Noodles
Five years ago: Sundried Tomato Stuffed Mushrooms, Jacked-Up Banana Bread and Orangettes
Sweet Potato (and Marshmallow) Biscuits
Makes 12 to 14 2-inch biscuits
1 pound sweet potatoes (red skinned are my favorite)
1/3 cup (79 ml) buttermilk
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder
3 tablespoons (38 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground (2 grams) cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) table salt
5 tablespoons (71 grams) unsalted butter, cold
1 cup miniature marshmallows (optional)
The day before or a couple hours in advance: Preheat oven to 400°F. Place sweet potato on a tray and roast until soft, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely in skin (the fridge can speed this up) then peel. Either run potato flesh through a potato ricer or mash it until very smooth. You’re looking for 3/4 cup (191 grams) sweet potato puree (I get closer to 1 1/3 cups from 1 pound. Melt some salted butter over any remainder and sprinkle with chives — happy lunch!)
You’ll probably have turned your oven off by now, so preheat it again to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Whisk 3/4 cup reserved sweet potato puree with buttermilk until smoothly combined. Keep nearby.
In the bottom of a large, wide-ish bowl, whisk flours, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt together. If you have a pastry blender, add the butter (if you have a sturdy pastry blender, no need to chop it first) and use the blender to cut the butter into the flour mixture until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas. If you don’t have a pastry blender, cut the butter into small pieces with a knife and work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
For both methods, continue by adding the sweet potato mixture and stir and break it up until the mixture is in big, soft chunks. Get your hands in the bowl and gently knead the dough into an even mass, using as few motions as possible (and thus, warming the dough as little as possible.).
With marshmallows: Roll or pat dough out on a floured counter to a 1/2-inch thickness and divide evenly in half. Sprinkle marshmallows loosely over half of dough. Place the second half on top of marshmallow and use rolling pin to gently press the sides together, keeping the final dough thickness at a full inch.
Without marshmallows: Roll or pat dough out on a floured counter to a 1-inch thickness.
Both methods: Dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter in flour then form biscuits by cutting straight down and not twisting — this will help give your biscuits the maximum rise. Bake biscuits on prepared sheet for 13 to 15 minutes, until puffed and slightly golden on top. Cool on rack and enjoy as soon as possible.
Do ahead: Biscuits are best on the first day that they’re baked. To make them ahead of time, arrange cut biscuits on a tray to freeze them. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag until needed. Bake at same temperature straight from freezer; biscuits will take about 2 minutes longer to bake.