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Another excuse to talk biscuits

This Thanksgiving, the focus wasn't on the ritual turkey and stuffing; it was on a wedding engagement. After all, my (half-)brother David has certainly made us wait.

David was fifteen when I was born. A mid-seventies transplant from Baltimore, he took Oklahoma City by storm with his stylish and shiny Farrah Fawcettesque hair, striped knee socks, and devilish ways. Although he kept himself busy scandalizing various cities and defying death and teachers, he also took care to do the requisite brotherly things: asking me (à la Telly Savalas), “Who loves ya, baby?” and training me to say, “You do!”; sitting on me and tickling me until I couldn’t breathe; harassing me about boys; and giving me a beer-derived nickname, Molson. The Kojak game is now long over, though it was only around age fourteen that I was able to convince David that tickling is not okay. And as for the harassment, it has today happily morphed into a lively banter, at times risqué enough to make him flinch. He pauses, gives me a high-five, and then returns the off-color punch. And of course, I’m still Molson.

But we’ve been waiting. He’s not getting any younger, and Carée is a fantastic catch, to say the least: strong, smart (a professor of health and human sexuality, complete with tabletop condom trees and penis light-switches), pretty, sophisticated, willing to tolerate David’s goofiness, able to put him in his place, and well-versed in dirty martinis. So finally, one blustery weekend last winter, he got down on literal and proverbial bended knee and offered up a very impressive diamond. Carée, caught straight out of the shower in a bathrobe and towel-turban, bravely accepted.

And this past weekend, we celebrated.

David and Carée arrived in Oklahoma City on Thanksgiving Day with a cooler full of Malpecq oysters, which David shucked using our father’s tried-and-true oyster knife. We gathered around the butcher-block island in the kitchen, Champagne flutes in hand, everyone but (scaredy-cat) me loudly slurping oysters. Watching David and Carée together, I was struck by how solid he seems with her, how confident, playful, happy he is. My mother tells me that he wants to have speakers installed in the kitchen of the house he and Carée have just bought: he wants to be able to kitchen-dance. It's so beautiful.

But all this was only a prelude: the true celebration came Saturday night, when forty or so of my parents’ friends joined us to fête David and Carée’s engagement. David cleaned up—even taking off the backwards baseball cap, his daring gang-member look—to resemble the suave businessman he is, and Carée looked gorgeous in a sleeveless, cowl-neck dress. I got to play hostess (a talent I prize but use far too infrequently) and managed to work the crowd for over two hours without getting a face ache from too much smiling. But best of all, there were biscuits—sweet-potato biscuits.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve had sweet-potato biscuits with ham and Honeycup mustard (“Uniquely sharp!” the label warns) on the party rotation. For this particular occasion, Mom did a bit of research and found, via David Rosengarten, what is purported to be the finest ham in all of America: Murcer’s bone-in ham from Enid, Oklahoma. It was indeed a lovely, honey-tinged, and luminously rosy specimen, redolent of smoke, its aroma wafting up from the kitchen into my father’s bathroom, where I was prettifying for the evening’s festivities. Paired with a generous slathering of Honeycup mustard on a buttery sweet-potato biscuit, it was intoxicating. The bartender also kept my wine glass very full.

Faithful readers may have noticed that I’ve been talking biscuits a lot lately, but with winter’s cold closing in and many dark months ahead, consider all this buttery richness a pre-emptive strike against hypothermia. As my French host-father used to say, “C’est nourrissant!” So allez, mangez: come spring, you’ll thank me. Carée, with wedding-dress fittings no doubt menacing, will not.

Congratulations, you two.

Sweet-Potato Biscuits
(Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs light-brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
6 Tbs chilled unsalted butter
3/4 cup chilled sweet potato puree (read: peeled, boiled, and pureed sweet potatoes)
1/3 cup buttermilk

To make the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 Tbs light-brown sugar, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp baking soda. With a pastry blender or two knives (or not-too-warm fingers), cut in 6 Tbs chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some pea-size lumps of butter remaining. In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup chilled sweet potato purée and 1/3 cup buttermilk; stir quickly into flour mixture until combined (do not overmix).

To shape the biscuits:
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead very gently until dough comes together but is still slightly lumpy, five or six times. (If dough is too sticky, work in up to 1/4 cup additional flour.) Shape into a disk, and pat to an even 1-inch thickness. With a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits as close together as possible. Gather together scraps, and repeat to cut out more biscuits (do not reuse scraps more than once).

Baking the biscuits:
Preheat oven to 425°, with rack on lower shelf. Butter or spray an 8-inch cake pan. Arrange biscuits snugly in pan. Brush with 1/2 Tbs melted butter. Bake until golden, rotating once, 20 to 24 minutes.

Yield: 8 biscuits.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Molly,

I stumbled across your blog at random one day, and I must say you have one of the most engaging manners of all the blogs. Not to mention that I now have to start working on a slew of new recipes.

Keep it up and best regards.
Your new reader,

Moss and stone

9:21 PM, December 04, 2004  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, Moss and stone! I'm blushing like mad. I hope you'll report back as you try recipes...

8:10 AM, December 05, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well damn, I'm certainly not going to try and compete with that kind of compliment. Let's just say I share the sentiment and leave it at that. Very good writing, on a topic that interests me.

Bookmark off the port bow!!!


1:07 PM, December 05, 2004  
Anonymous anna said...


I just discovered your blog last week, via notmartha. How lovely it is to read the adventures of Someone Who Truly Loves Food. I must say that your mention of Honeycup mustard reminded me of my previous job at a cafe. Cleaning out the sandwich station containers of Honeycup was one of my least favorite duties. 'Uniquely sharp' indeed! Glad you enjoy the bracingly sweet mustard, though. It must meld well with the warm, buttery sweet potato biscuits. Bon appetit!

9:31 AM, March 31, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Anna, thanks for making the trip over from Not Martha! I'm sorry to hear that your previous experiences with Honeycup were less than terrific...I imagine the stuff could get pretty sticky and nasty. [Shudder.] But maybe you should give it another try with ham and sweet-potato biscuits?

6:39 PM, March 31, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious about the preparation of the ham and sweet potato biscuit sandwich. I bake sweet potato biscuits often (keep them frozen and ready to bake as needed) and have made sandwiches with them as well. I have not quite gotten the ingredients (spread) right for the ham sandwich - do you use only mustard, or do you use a mixture of mustard and mayonaisse? I would like to serve these for tea and would like to perfect the sandwich prior to the event.

I discovered your blog in my search for the perfect sweet potato biscuit sandwich idea/recipe. I will spend more time here! Great blog!

8:21 PM, October 25, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Welcome, Anonymous! I'm so glad that you found Orangette. As for this business of sweet potato biscuits with ham, my family has always used one particular spread, and nothing else. It's a type of mustard called Honeycup Uniquely Sharp Mustard. You can often find it in gourmet shops and delis, and I think that Whole Foods might carry it as well, if you have one of those nearby. It's a somewhat creamy mustard that includes brown sugar, honey, and various spices, which makes it sweet, spicy, and delicious. That, plus some good ham and a good sweet potato biscuit, is heaven. I'm not sure if it's the flavor you have in mind, but you might give it a try...

10:49 PM, October 25, 2006  
Blogger Emily said...

Hi Molly! Can one substitute canned, plain sweet potato puree in this recipe? Or would that be sacrilegious? I'm searching for a buttermilk recipe so I can use up the rest of the carton in my fridge. (I bought it for those yummy buttermilk cookies!) And I have a can of sweet potato puree in my cabinet. I hope they'll turn out alright, because it sounds like serendipity to me! ;D

5:44 PM, May 02, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Emily, I haven't tried it, but I'll bet it would work just fine. I can't imagine why it wouldn't, you know? Come back and let me know how it goes.

8:53 PM, May 03, 2008  
Blogger Emi said...

Hi Molly, I tried the recipe with the canned sweet potato and the biscuits turned out perfect. Mmmm! Thanks for the encouragement. :D

2:22 PM, June 04, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of buttermilk, do you think that I could substitute in milk soured with lemon juice?
P.S. Your blog never fails me and your photography is simply amazing.

3:53 AM, December 20, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, I'm so sorry for not replying sooner! I'm sure this reply comes way too late, but on the off chance that you're still interested in making these, yes, I do think that you could use milk soured with lemon juice instead of the buttermilk. It should work just fine.

8:16 PM, December 28, 2008  
Anonymous Lauren said...

I've made this recipe so many times and my family loves them. I'm a terrible baker usually, too. Thanks so much for posting :)

5:57 PM, February 23, 2009  
Anonymous Tamara said...

I want to make these right now! They look wonderful and sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods.

Do you have any suggestions what to use instead of ham for people who don't eat pork and don't mix meat and dairy (read: keep kosher).


[Here from abchao, hashai.com]

2:56 AM, April 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tamara--while ham is a wonderful addition to these biscuits, I grew up eating them nekkid slathered in butter--with nothin else on them! Yum!

12:51 PM, April 20, 2009  
Anonymous Tamara said...

Thanks anonymous.

I tried the recipe and I messed something up. Shall try again soon with plenty of butter.

7:46 AM, April 24, 2009  
Blogger Debra said...

Hi Molly,

Though I've loved your column in BA for some time, I'm new to your blog. But I LOVE it!! And I am about 2/3 of the way done with your amazing book... So in just shy of two weeks, I feel you have changed my life - and my kitchen - for the better!

I made these biscuits this weekend and oh. my. god. They're amazing. In fact, embarrassingly enough, my husband and I ate them ALL within two days (and for some reason my batch even made 10 biscuits!).

I am all-too-comfortably settling into the idea that I will try all or most of your recipes in the coming months and honestly, it's one of the only things I am looking forward to as much as I am!

Thank you for your wonderful contributions - I have a lot of fun reading whatever it is you have to say :)

Happy new year and best wishes,

1:55 PM, January 05, 2010  
Blogger Chrissie said...

I just whipped up your butternut, pear, cider, vanilla soup from leftover roasted squash and it made my day. But there was MORE squash, so I used it to make these biscuits, and what a good idea that was! I switched out the sugar for maple syrup and used the white whole wheat flour that I've been addicted to since I made your chocolate chip cookies. I'm looking forward to a crispy piece of peppered bacon inside a biscuit. You're just great!


11:28 AM, September 29, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and decided to try this recipe. I have not tried it with sweet potatoes yet (the puree is in the fridge cooling down, that's next) but I did just make a batch with some butternut squash puree that I had in the fridge. Yum! Baking some ham later this evening and I thought having these on hand would be perfect for left overs! Thanks for such a fantastic blog. I cannot wait to read about and eat more of your recipes!


11:30 AM, November 05, 2012  

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