Toni Tipton-Martin’s Sweet Potato Biscuits Are Perfect for Your Kwanzaa Celebration

published Dec 19, 2022
Kitchn Love Letters
Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ham Recipe
Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Sweet potato biscuits plated and served with salted honey butter.
Credit: Photo: Murray Hall; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

One of my kitchen staples is the cookbook Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin, editor-in-chief of Cook’s County; recipient of the seventh annual Julia Child Award; two-time James Beard Award winner; and founder of Toni Tipton-Martin Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering female food writers. (Yeah, she’s amazing.) With gorgeous recipes sitting alongside historical backstories about Black foodways in our country, Jubilee is a beautiful celebration of all things wonderful and delicious. 

Upon getting the book, I promptly fell in love with her Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ham. On just one page, I not only had an easy-to-follow recipe, but I also learned a little something about how George Washington Carver taught us what was possible with the sweet potato and how our aunties and grandmothers perfected it. Biscuits are often my go-to on a Sunday morning for breakfast or to accompany a hot bowl of soup on a chilly day. And her sweet potato biscuit recipe always fits the bill. 

This is a fairly standard biscuit ratio recipe, but what makes it extra special is the full cup of sweet potato, subtle warm spice of the cinnamon, and pillowy and flaky interior. When I make them, I do not get a full dozen like the recipe suggests it should yield because my biscuit cutter — an antique that belonged to my great-great aunt who lived in my West Harlem apartment through the Harlem Renaissance — is quite large. 

This is the time of year when I start to think about holiday baking, and the foods invoke celebration for me. And I think these biscuits are perfect to accompany a family Kwanzaa celebration. Sweet potato is an important food within the Black community and a traditional Kwanzaa celebration food. These are a fun savory twist that steer us away from the more traditional uses of sweet potatoes, such as pie or sticky-sweet candied yams. 

I did not grow up celebrating Kwanzaa and don’t know many people who celebrate as intended by Dr. Maulana Karenga, the man who created the holiday in 1966 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Pan African movement. He strongly felt that Black people should eschew Christmas for Kwanzaa. I don’t feel that way. In my house we celebrate Hanukkah with my husband’s family, Christmas with my family, and recognize Kwanzaa as a time at the end of the school holidays where we can reflect upon how we support the Black community that is our family and the chosen family that surrounds us in our Harlem neighborhood. 

Credit: Photo: Murray Hall; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

Tips for Making Toni Tipton-Martin’s Sweet Potato Biscuits

  • Make them mini. If you want these for a crowd, use a smaller cutter to make cute bite-sized bundles. They will be gobbled up in seconds. 
  • Add milk as needed. I found the tip of mixing a half-cup of milk with the potato before adding to the dry ingredients super helpful and smart. And I did not need the full cup of milk called for in the recipe. This could change depending on weather, time of year, or which kind of sweet potatoes you use.
  • Cook the potatoes however you want to. I tried cooking the sweet potatoes in the oven and in the microwave, and I definitely recommend the latter. Microwave, mash, then refrigerate the sweet potatoes before you go to bed, then you’re ready to go for the morning. 
  • Make sure your mashed sweet potatoes are cold. Just like you chill your butter and milk!
  • Have fun with the recipe. I got a little wild and added a quarter teaspoon of Cayenne to one batch. With another, I slathered the biscuits with homemade honey butter (just softened butter, a few tablespoons of honey, and some flaky salt such as Maldon). I also tried them as intended with a thick slice of ham as a sandwich. This recipe is so versatile due to its sweet and savory nature; I think next time I may fry up some pancetta and add it directly to the dough because, why not! 

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ham Recipe

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface

  • 2 tablespoons

    light brown sugar

  • 4 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (Carmen’s addition!)

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    salt, or to taste

  • 1/2 cup

    (8 tablespoons) butter, shortening, or lard, cut into 1/2-inch dice and chilled

  • 1 cup

    cold cooked mashed sweet potatoes

  • 1 cup

    cold whole milk, or as needed

  • 12 thin slices

    country ham, as desired

  • Salted honey butter, for serving (Carmen’s addition!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Sprinkle the chilled butter over the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the sweet potatoes and 1/2 cup of the milk. Add this to the flour mixture and stir lightly with a fork, just until moistened. Add the remaining 1/2 cup milk, as needed, until the mixture forms a soft dough.

  3. Flour a work surface, turn the dough out, and knead lightly for 30 seconds or until the dough is smooth. Roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick. Cut biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter and place each 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Gather the scraps into a ball. Knead 1 to 2 times, re-roll, and cut more biscuits, handling very lightly. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Split the biscuits open and fill with slivers of country ham. Serve warm with salted honey butter.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by
Toni Tipton-Martin, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Jerrelle Guy . Published by Clarkson Potter, a
division of Penguin Random House, Inc.