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.”