How to Top a Biscuit

by April McGreger ’02 (MS)

April McGreger '02 (MS). Photo by Anna Routh Barzin '07

April McGreger ’02 (MS). (Photo by Anna Routh Barzin ’07)

In 2010, the birth of my son sabotaged my farmers market baking career. All-night baking sessions gave way to all-night feeding sessions. I let the baking arm of my business languish and focused on pickling and preserving, which adapted better to my new schedule as a mom. My son is 4½ now, and yet every Saturday I work the farmers market, someone still asks me, “No sweet potato-ginger scones?”

When my cookbook, Sweet Potatoes, was published by UNC Press in September, my farmers market regulars were the first in line to purchase it. Many told me that they didn’t care what other recipes were in the book and that the cost of the book was a bargain for that recipe alone.

It is a recipe that tells my story well. I was born in the self-proclaimed “Sweet Potato Capital” of Vardaman, Miss. My first job was pulling sweet potato “slips,” or sprouts (what to the rest of the world looks like weeding), that would then be set out in expansive fields. My father and brother still farm sweet potatoes. Little did I know when I escaped to North Carolina that I was moving to the one state possibly more obsessed with sweet potatoes than my native Mississippi.

In my days as a pastry chef at Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, I began to appreciate the dependable and versatile nature of the sweet potato. From fall to early spring, it was a workhorse in my farm-to-table-style dessert menu, and it was a natural fit for Asian-inspired cuisine.

When I started Farmer’s Daughter in 2007, I wanted to showcase the best of seasonal, local ingredients as well and was working to develop a few signature morning pastries. I was known already among my friends and family for my sweet potato biscuits, but what self-respecting Southerner is going to serve a cold biscuit? Heat wasn’t an option at my open-air farmers market stall. So, I developed the recipe for sweet potato-ginger scones, which are nothing more than a slightly sweet, enriched sweet potato drop biscuit, spiked with candied ginger.

During five years of peddling scones at the Saturday morning Carrboro Farmers’ Market, I found this variation was far and away the best-seller. Craggy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and studded with chunks of pungent ginger, these scones are feasts for the senses. The amount of liquid needed in this recipe varies depending on the amount of moisture in your sweet potatoes. Overly wet dough will not spoil your efforts, but it will make your scones spread more and be softer rather than crisp on the outside. You want the dough to just hold together. Also, for the best results, be sure that the mashed sweet potatoes are well-chilled before adding them to the dough, or the butter will melt and damage the texture of the scones.

Recipe from Sweet Potatoes: a Savor the South Cookbook by April McGreger ’02 (MS). Copyright 2014 by April McGreger. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press,

Sweet Potato-Ginger Scones

Makes about 1 dozen

For the scones:

¼ cup cold heavy cream
¾ cup cold buttermilk
1½ cups cold mashed sweet potatoes
5 cups unbleached pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
⅔ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cardamom
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons lemon zest
½ cup chopped crystallized ginger

For the topping:

¼ cup cream
¼ cup turbinado sugar
⅛ teaspoon cardamom


  • Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the cream and buttermilk into the mashed sweet potatoes.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cardamom and nutmeg. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork until it is the size of corn kernels. Stir in the lemon zest and crystallized ginger.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and, working quickly, stir in the sweet-potato mixture until the dough just comes together. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, drop the dough onto the baking sheet into mounds about 2½ inches in diameter and about 2 inches apart.
  • For the topping, brush the scones with the cream. Mix the turbinado sugar and cardamom in a small bowl, and sprinkle it evenly over the top of each scone. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Share via: