I’m not going to say that my mom was a hippie or a health nut. She didn’t stock her pantry with wheat germ or homemade granola, and she didn’t feed us sprouted grains or tempeh (in fact, she probably didn’t know what tempeh was). But she did make a definite effort to keep food choices healthy when my sister and I were kids. Her rule for me when picking out breakfast cereal was that sugar had to be third or lower on the list of ingredients tapped out in tiny letters on the side of the box. I think the first time I tasted Lucky Charms was when I was in high school, where I was quietly surprised that anyone could think of eating this candy for breakfast rather than dessert. The first time I saw someone put sugar into a bowl of Corn Flakes, I was stunned. The only kind of cereal I’d ever put sweetener onto, besides oatmeal, was Shredded Wheat.
Despite the commercials I drooled over for Sunny Delight (back when it wasn’t just a D) and Capri Sun, nothing but 100% juice (and the occasional lemonade concentrate) entered our fridge for a very long time. Brand name Fruit Roll-ups didn’t fly, but the occasional real pressed fruit leather was okay. My sister, seven years my junior, somehow managed to get Mom to buy Squeeze-its, but not until they had a “real juice” component. She also ended up with Lunchables to take to school (I didn’t find out about this until a visit home from college. I was shocked and felt a weird kind of betrayed jealousy – I didn’t want to eat Lunchables now; they looked disgusting! But I wanted to have been allowed to have them when I might have thought they tasted good. Is there even a word for that feeling?).
Given all this, as you might imagine, white bread was not something that appeared in our (paper, please) grocery bags. But my sister and I were not sold on the breads my parents wanted us to eat. Whole wheat was pushing it a little, especially if it had cracked wheat spattered across the top crust. Oatnut and any kind of seven or nine or even five grain compilations were out. And then Mom found Country Potato bread. Do you remember it? It’s golden and mild, slightly sweet but still savory enough to taste good with ham and cheese. The top was often lightly dusted with some residual flour, which was somehow not offensive in the way the cracked wheat pieces were on the bread we refused. We ate potato bread for years. It was soft enough that, once you ate the crust off, you could roll the rest of it up into a mushy little ball, or tear the slice in pieces and make a whole pile of little dough-balls, and then eat those. They squished against our teeth.
In the years since sourdough replaced potato as my bread flavor of choice, I’ve thought again about that bread my sister and I ate. How did they (whoever “they” were) get potato into bread? In what form? Was it mashed? Was it baked? Was it a flurry of potato flakes? Was it potato flour? At the farmers’ market in Eugene, OR my husband and I discovered potato donuts: dark brown, dense, sugar-crusted rings that were mercifully only available once a week, and I wondered about these too. Two beloved starches, baked together, could only be greater than the sum of their parts.
This is all an extremely long way to introduce the idea of putting potatoes in a biscuit. If they can produce bread and donuts, and of course pasta – gnocchi is not, when it comes right down to it, really so tremendously different from a row of fluffy little miniature biscuits that you boil instead of baking – why not a tall, leavened biscuit?
A little internet research showed me numerous methods of incorporating potato flavor into my biscuits. I decided early on that I wanted to use a fresh potato, rather than the instant potato flakes some recipes recommend, which meant I had to be careful about moisture. The potato needed to be cooked and mashed or pureed before adding it to the flour, so that it mixed in easily. However, boiling potato chunks to mash them does add water, and I wanted to keep my potatoes dry so that the moisture could come from something with additional flavor – I was thinking buttermilk. Here, gnocchi was the answer. To avoid adding too much water, here or in those pillowy little nuggets, the potato is baked and then grated into crumbly, starchy strands, which are then easily smashed into smoothness.
I’m rarely contented with a plain old buttermilk biscuit, so I decided some add-ins were in order. Since I was already playing with the potato idea, I started thinking about loaded baked potatoes: cheese, broccoli, bacon bits, sour cream, green onions… I had a roommate once who liked to top hers with salsa and cubes of fried tofu. In the end, though, I decided to keep the excess to a (relative) minimum: crisp shards of prosciutto, sharp cheddar, and a pile of roughly chopped roasted broccoli florets.
This produced a dough that clung together reluctantly, given how jammed with additions it was. But I was patient, after I’d finished throwing flour everywhere, and gentle, and managed to punch out 12 biscuit rounds jammed with bits of green and pink poking out every which way.
This is a dense biscuit, so it doesn’t rise a tremendous amount when it is baked, but it will still puff a bit as the chunks of butter struggle to support the spudsy weight. It emerges speckled with bits of broccoli and browned cheese, and it’s totally worth it in every way. Guys, you have to try these. It’s rare that I run out of food words to describe something, but this is one of those times. If I jammed all the superlatives I was thinking of using into this post, you probably wouldn’t believe me. I’ll keep it at this: the cheese and the broccoli and the prosciutto all lend a crazy-good saltiness (the prosciutto could easily be taken out to make this vegetarian). The flavors are perfect together, and though the potato doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, it does make this biscuit fairly substantial. Paired with a salad (as we had), or a nice bowl of soup, it’s basically a complete meal.
As with all biscuits I’ve ever tasted, these are best on the first day, as hot out of the oven as you can stand to touch them. They are perfect on their own, though if you wanted to split one open and add a pat of butter, I’d completely understand. They are, after all, related to baked potatoes. And if you wanted to top them with a roasted garlic or a white pepper gravy, well, I don’t think I’d be in any position to stop you.
Loaded Baked Potato Biscuits
(for flour and potato quantities, I started with Deb’s sweet potato biscuits, and improvised from there. This seems like a lot of steps, but trust me…)
For the potato:
- Bake a medium to large russet or other fluffy, starchy potato at 400F for about an hour, or until a fork sinks easily through the middle. When it is cooked through, let it cool completely. Splitting it in half will hasten this process.
- Using the largest holes on a box grater, grate the potato flesh away from the skin. In a large bowl, smash or crush the crumbly bits of potato into a smooth mash.
For the broccoli and prosciutto:
1-2 medium heads broccoli, cut into small florets
6 slices prosciutto
- Preheat the oven to 425F. On a baking sheet, toss the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast for 30-45 minutes, flipping the broccoli pieces over halfway through the cooking process. When done, they should be well browned on the outside and tender in the middle. The flowery bits will be crisp, like broccoli popcorn.
- Remove the broccoli to a plate or cutting board to cool. When cool enough to handle, chop into ½ inch pieces.
- Place prosciutto strips onto the now-empty baking tray (yes, there will be some broccoli bits and residual oil there. Don’t worry about it – they are all going into the biscuits together!). Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until prosciutto is crisp. Watch it carefully: it burns easily.
- When crisp and dry, set aside on paper towels or a wire rack to cool and drain a bit. Once cool, cut or crumble into bits.
For the biscuits:
2 cups flour
2 TB baking powder
½ tsp salt (this doesn’t seem like much, but remember, the broccoli, prosciutto, and cheese are all salty already. If you’re a salt fiend, go ahead and use a full teaspoon, but otherwise, start small)
1 cup grated baked potato, mashed smooth
5 TB unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ cup buttermilk
1 – 1½ cups chopped roasted broccoli florets
Crumbled prosciutto from 6 strips (you could easily substitute an equal quantity of bacon)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, as sharp as you can find
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, mashed potato, baking powder, and salt. You want a homogenous mixture: no big potato chunks.
- Using a fork, two knives, or (my favorite) a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of large peas. This will also help break up any remaining hunks of potato.
- Add the cheese, prosciutto, and broccoli, and incorporate until they are distributed evenly.
- Add buttermilk and stir with a fork. You are looking for everything to combine into a rough, shaggy-looking dough.
- Turn your dough out onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times with the heels of your hands until it is more willing to cling together. Press it out into a rectangle or circle about 1 inch thick.
- Using a biscuit cutter or the floured rim of a drinking glass, punch out biscuits by pressing straight down, NOT twisting. This will help the biscuits rise better by not disrupting their layers.
- Once you have punched as many as you can from the dough rectangle, gather the scraps, knead them together once or twice, and press the dough out again. Continue until no more dough remains (making one or two funky-looking biscuit bits is totally acceptable: you can call those the cook’s tax and gobble them while no one is looking).
- As you punch out biscuits, place them on a greased or parchment lined baking tray.
- Bake in a preheated 425F oven for 15-18 minutes.
- Eat while hot, warm, or room temperature, if you can wait that long.