Anatomy of a Classic

Sweet Potato Bis-cakes

Yield: 8 servings

Taking inspiration from her culinary heritage, Erika Council makes pancakes worth flipping for

photo: Johnny Autry


Cooking mistakes can be like little kitchen miracles, which is how Erika Council came to develop her recipe for sweet potato pancakes.

A software engineer by day and a food blogger by night, Council started cooking Sunday suppers for friends after she moved to Atlanta in 2005. The guest list kept growing, so first she launched a blog called Southern Soufflé to share her recipes, and then, in 2013, she decided to turn her suppers into a pop-up, taking over kitchens at restaurants like Kimball House in Decatur to host her Soul Food Sunday Supper Club. Last spring, pit master Bryan Furman of Savannah-based B’s Cracklin’ BBQ asked Council if she wanted to try her hand at making breakfast at his Atlanta outpost. Throughout the year at Saturday-morning pop-ups, B’s diners lined up for Council’s biscuits, beignets, and cinnamon rolls.

Council’s two grandmothers taught her a lot about food. One is Mildred Cotton Council, better known as Mama Dip, who started the popular restaurant of the same name in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and went on to write two cookbooks. The other is her maternal grandmother, Geraldine Gavin Dortch of Goldsboro, North Carolina. About twenty years ago, she started to show signs of dementia. Council would take over the cooking when she visited.

“One day, I wanted to show her I could make her sweet potato biscuits,” Council says. She stirred together the soft dough from memory. First, she boiled sweet potatoes whole, and then quickly put them into cold water so their skins would slip off easily. Then she mashed them, mixed in the self-rising flour her grandmother preferred, and added milk to form the dough. It was supposed to be wet, but solid enough to drop biscuits onto a baking sheet with an ice cream scoop. Instead, it was runny; Council had used too much liquid.

“I was going to pour it down the drain, and she was just livid,” Council recalls. “She said, ‘Just put some oil in a skillet.’” The biscuit batter cooked up like hoecakes. “I took that and ran with it,” Council says. “I call them my bis-cakes.”

Johnny Autry

Now Council makes them for her children, ages five and seventeen, and for anyone who might be coming over for breakfast. She still pops-up at B’s, too, while working on writing a cookbook. Sometimes, she prepares a compote for the top, sautéing a couple of thinly sliced apples in butter, then stirring in honey spiked with a little cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Other days, butter and maple or sorghum syrup do just fine.

“You can dial back on the liquid and make biscuits, too,” Council says. “You can’t really ever mess it up.”

Johnny Autry


Ingredients

    • 1½ cups all-purpose flour

    • 3½ tsp. baking powder

    • 1 tsp. salt

    • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

    • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

    • 1 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes*

    • 2 eggs, beaten

    • 1½ cups whole milk

    • ¼ cups unsalted butter, melted, plus more for griddle

    • * To prepare sweet potatoes, halve and boil them until tender but firm, about 15 minutes. Drain, and immediately immerse in cold water to loosen skins. Drain, remove skins, chop, and mash.


Preparation

  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, mix together the mashed sweet potatoes, eggs, milk, and butter. Blend sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture and stir until a batter forms.

  2. Preheat griddle over medium high, and lightly grease with a pat of butter. Drop batter mixture onto the griddle by the heaping tablespoonful. Cook until golden brown, turning once with a spatula when the surface begins to bubble.

  3. Remove from griddle and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining batter.

Meet the Chef: Erika Council

Hometown:
Durham, North Carolina

Favorite piece of kitchen equipment #1:
An old tin pan that came as a giveaway with any purchase of PY-O-MY pastry mix. “My great-grandmother baked her biscuits on it.”

Favorite piece of kitchen equipment #2: 
Her great-grandmother’s hundred-year-old glass cake stand. It was a gift from a woman whose house she used to clean—and who loved her great-grandmother’s cakes. “She cherished it,” Council says. “It’s in every photograph.”


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