Flaky, tender and buttery, biscuits with a bit of country ham make a filling breakfast and a tasty appetizer. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Southern delicacy known as country ham, please let me educate you. Country ham is dry cured for several days, before being smoked and then aged for up to a year. While country ham is easy to come by and relatively inexpensive in most Southern supermarkets, several artisanal producers have taken the stuff I grew up on to the next level.
While my favorite way to eat country ham is with a little red-eye gray, this recipe doesn’t disappoint. The sweetness of the sweet potato biscuit and honey mustard paired with the salty country ham is a pleasure that’s worth the effort. For those of you that have read enough to know this is something you must make, please jump ahead to the recipe. For those souls aspiring to biscuit greatness, please read on. For my visual learners, click here. Everyone happy?
I learned about biscuits from Nathalie Dupree. Lucky enough to serve as her apprentice several summers ago, I got to learn the basics of biscuit-making from the master herself. (She and co-author Cynthia Graubert recently wrote Southern Biscuits which you should buy if you want to know EVERYTHING there is to know about biscuit making).
While Nathalie taught me all sorts of tricks (enough to write a book!), there are three things that I keep in mind every time I make biscuits. The first is to use a cold fat. I prefer butter to shortening, but regardless of what you use it needs to be cold as cold fat results in wonderfully flaky biscuits. I like to cut my fat into very small pieces and then refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes before using it in my recipe.
When it comes time to add the cold fat to the dry ingredients you’ll want to move quickly. Most recipes refer to this next step as “cutting” the fat into the flour. It’s a strange term that refers to the simple task of working the fat into the flour so that it is in very small pieces. Experienced biscuit makers can snap their fingers to work the fat into the flour, although I find that a pastry blender or two forks works just as well for beginners out there. Regardless of which method you use, you’ll want to do this quickly to keep the fat from warming up.
Once you have the fat worked in, it’s time to add the liquid which brings us to the second most important thing to remember when biscuit making: don’t overwork the dough. It’s tempting to want to work your biscuit dough until it’s smooth and without any lumps, but the biscuit that would result from all your kneading would be a pathetic one indeed. With biscuit making, you just want to bring your ingredients together. The dough should look ragged and it’s ok if there is flour left on the bottom of the bowl. Remember it’s better to underwork than overwork with biscuits. Overworking the dough makes tough biscuits.
Now that you’ve worked in your liquid, it’s time to turn out the biscuit dough and cut the dough into rounds. Dump the dough on a well-floured surface. You can roll the dough out with a rolling-pin or simply pat the dough down until it’s about 1/2-inch thick. Then follow tip #3: don’t twist the biscuit cutter when cutting out your biscuits. This must be written in our genetic code as almost everyone I know likes to give a cookie or biscuit cutter a little twist at the end before lifting it off. This is suicide to biscuits. Your dramatic little flourish has sealed the edge of the biscuit and will prevent it from rising in the oven. Biscuits that had dreams of fluffiness will be reduced to hockey pucks. It’s a sad sight to see and a mistake you won’t repeat.
And that’s it. Keep your fat cold, work quickly, and don’t twist the cutter. Three easy steps that will get you on your way to biscuit greatness.
Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham – Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes about 30 small biscuit sandwiches
A 1-1/2 inch cutter will make about 30 small biscuit sandwiches that are perfect for appetizers. Biscuits can be made larger or smaller if desired.
1-¼ lbs (2 small or 1 large) sweet potatoes
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 lb sliced country ham
Olive oil (about 1 tablespoon)
2/3 cup honey mustard
Special equipment: pastry blender (or two forks), rolling pin, 1 ½-inch round cutter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Scrape the inside of the sweet potato into a small bowl and discard the skin. Mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher or two forks. Set aside.
Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut the cold butter into the flour until the butter is in small pieces. Using your hands, quickly rub the sweet potato into the flour until combined. Stir in the buttermilk until just incorporated. Turn the dough out on the counter and pull it together using your hands.
Roll the dough out until it is about 1/2-inch thick. Use a 1 ½-inch round cutter to cut out the biscuits. Do not turn the cutter when cutting out the biscuits as this will seal the edges and the biscuits will not rise as well. Transfer the biscuit rounds to a small baking sheet. Make sure the biscuit rounds are touching each other and not spaced too far apart. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the skillet with olive oil. Being careful not to overcrowd the skillet, add the slices of country ham to the skillet and cook for about 1 minute on each side. Once cooked, set the country ham on a platter and continue cooking the remaining slices of country ham; add more olive oil to the skillet if needed. Cut the cooked country ham into biscuit-sized pieces.
To assemble the biscuits, cut each biscuit in half. Spread one half of the biscuit with the honey mustard and top with a piece of country ham. Top with the biscuit half and repeat until all of the biscuits have been assembled. Serve.