Sweet Potato Biscuits

Jefferson Boyer, Educator at Salisbury University and Wor-Wic Community College is an Art Historian
and English educator. Jefferson prepares about 25 pounds of Sweet Potato Biscuits each season
for the Christmas Bazaar at White Haven Bed & Breakfast here on the Eastern Shore.

It was his desire to prepare for our viewers, a traditional sweet potato biscuit recipe that is about 100 years old.
Not only does he show you how to prepare these sweet fluffy delights – he also gives hints, tips and techniques
that absolutely make them a step above all the rest. Enjoy!

From Our Kitchen to Your Table ~ Merry Christmas

Mary

Sweet Potato Biscuits

( a seasonal favorite of the Eastern Shore)

This recipe came from Susan Shope, whose family was originally from Virginia, who lived in Salisbury for many years. Her grandson David was a college roommate. She had the recipe for over 50 years when she gave it to me in the late 1980s. When I asked if it was an heirloom recipe, she chortled and said, “Well, I guess it is now—I cut it off the bag of Martha White flour in the 1930s when I was first married.!” . There are several different biscuit recipes, often calling for milk, but this recipe requires no additional liquid. The moisture in the sweet potatoes is enough.

The perfect sweet potato biscuit is an eye-catching orange color, light and fluffy, but moist. When done correctly, they are good eating warm, just out of the oven, and don’t even require butter (but butter them anyway!)

Sweet Potato Biscuits

  • 3 cups biscuit flour (all purpose flour is fine to use, too)
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 cups boiled mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup melted shortening (the original recipe uses lard )
  • ½ cup sugar ( or less )

Butter or margarine (about ½ stick) for rubbing on the tops of the hot biscuits

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

You’ll also need two mixing bowls and a lightly greased baking sheet.

This recipe makes a larger batch that is a little larger than a standard biscuit recipe; unused dough can be refrigerated for 4 days or so, or frozen for later use.

  • 1. Mix first three ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt ) thoroughly.
  • 2. In a separate bowl, using a large fork, mix the second group (mashed sweets, shortening, sugar) together
    thoroughly.
  • 3. Mix the dry mixture into the sweet potatoes, adding about a third of the flour at the time.
  • 4. Stir mixture, work dough like regular biscuits. You’ll want a dough that is a bit on the moist side. It should
    almost stick to your hands.

REMEMBER : Do not stir or knead too much, as it cause the dough to get tough and will result in tough chewy biscuits.

  • 5. On a well floured surface, roll out or pat out the dough AT LEAST ½ INCH THICK.
    Don’t go thinner than ½ inch.
  • 6. Cut like biscuits. ( Hint: dip the cutter in reserve flour between cuts so it cuts clean.)

NOTE: Any unused dough can be refrigerated for use later (up to 3 days or so).

  • 7. Dip the bottom of each cut biscuit into reserve flour (this prevents sticking and burning; see note below)
  • 8. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet (vegetable oil spray is fine).
  • 9. Prick the tops of the biscuit with a fork to form a diamond shape
  • 10. Bake at 425 degrees for about 6 to 8 minutes until the biscuits “puff”, then
  • 11. Turn down to 350 degrees and and let them ‘coast’ another 10-12 minutes, or until done.
    I usually add only about two minutes or so at a time The sides should be firm and the bottom
    will be a honey-colored orange brown.

Be careful; the sugar in the dough makes them more susceptible to burns.

  • 12.Remove from oven.
  • 13. Brush / rub tops of biscuits with butter.

Serve hot or cold. They reheat in an over wrapped in foil or reheated in a microwave like bread.

Storing: never bag or box up warm biscuits. Let them get to room temp. Otherwise they don’t keep as well. Sweet potato biscuits hold their moisture well, and can be stored for 2-3 days at room temperature, or refrigerated, and they freeze well. Unused dough can be refrigerated, or even frozen.

Dough Mixing Hint: if the flour isn’t all absorbed in a few stirs, let it sit for 10 minutes then stir some more; this way, the moisture in the dough works to help get the flour

Baking Hint:

By starting on a higher heat and turning it down, you actually recreate the way the fire would burn in a wood cookstove. Since this recipe dates from the time of wood-fired cookstoves, ironically, they turned out better, because the kindling wood fire would start out hot, and then drop in 8-10 minutes as the wood burned down, thereby decreasing the risk of burning. But since a modern oven tries to maintain a constant heat, these biscuits burn easily at 425 degrees

  • Leftover candied sweets can be used, just omit the sugar—but they don’t compare to fresh boiled sweet potatoes.
  • If dough is too dry, add milk, no more than a tablespoon at a time. In general, this dough is fairly forgiving; the recipe doubles easily, but
  • Low salt—salt can be omitted
  • Low fat—shortening can be reduced (I’ve accidentally left out shortening and the biscuits weren’t all that bad.

History:

The debut of the sweet potato biscuit in Eastern Shore culture is unknown, but probably came in with the advent of baking powder in the 1800s, and with the large scale commercial growing of sweet potatoes on the Eastern Shore in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Sweet potato biscuits are made on Delmarva and in the Coastal Carolinas—sweet potato country. In over twenty years, I have done an informal survey of Southerners, and most have never heard of the baking powder sweet potato biscuit. Many have heard of the yeast rolls that use sweet potatoes, but not the biscuits. Sweet potato biscuits are almost unknown in other parts of the country.

English’s Cafeterias popularized them in their diners up and down the shore for decades, and now its successor, English’s Bay Country Dining.

Pillsbury’s 1914 cookbook has a sweet potato biscuit recipe but it calls for buttermilk and soda.

Selecting Potatoes

Hint: I’m told that longer, skinnier sweet potatoes are sweeter, but I find they can be more fibrous—the biscuits look “hairier”. The fibers are not tough to the palate, but they look odd to the uninitiated eater.

  • Boil the sweet potatoes and let them cool down in the water. This way they stay moist.

Do NOT use Baked sweet potatoes are usually drier, and you’ll have to add water or milk to them.
I don’t recommend them.

Canned sweet potatoes may be used, but usually the color is not as orange—and biscuits can look a bit “green around the gills”

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