The season for holiday pies is upon us. I’ll be baking the ritual pumpkin and pecan pies that families long for at this time of year but I’m also interested in the legendary sweet potato pie. It has a long and cherished Southern tradition where sweet potatoes were introduced in colonial times. For many families across the nation, no holiday would be complete without it.
I’ve crafted this recipe with less sugar than usual to showcase the wonderful natural taste of the sweet potato, which is quite sweet on its own. I roast the sweet potatoes with melted butter and spices to enhance and concentrate all the luscious flavors. And for something a bit different, I’ve added a half-piece of star anise, which I think blends seamlessly with the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and lends a very subtle but distinctive edge that I find really delicious. Buttermilk gives the whole mix a very slight tang that I think is irresistible. Taken all together, it's easy to see how this pie will be kept in rotation as a sumptuous end to soul-soothing hearty meals during the cozy fall and winter months.
Whatever your plans for the holidays, try and sneak in a few new ideas and surprises for your table. Here’s to enjoying every luscious bite the season has to offer!
- The dough comes together very quickly in a food processor. It will not look like a smooth dough but rather like a moist and lumpy cottage cheese.
But once it's gathered and wrapped tightly in a piece of plastic wrap and given a chance to rest in the refrigerator, it becomes a very nice and soft pliable pastry dough. The important thing is to keep visible pieces of butter in tact and avoid blending it all into the flour.
- Chilling the tart dough is important to relax the gluten and allow the moisture to be absorbed by the flour. Also chill the tart shell once it's formed to help maintain its shape during baking.
- The pastry dough can be made 1 - 2 days ahead and chilled. Any longer than that and it starts to discolor and turn grey.
- I use a lightly floured silpat to roll out my dough. It helps to prevent the dough from sticking and makes it a lot easier to handle without excessive use of flour.
- I used a 14” x 4 1/2” tart pan with removable bottom but a 9” pie or tart pan will also work.
- When I have the desired shape and thickness of the tart dough rolled out, I fold it half for the rectangle tart pan (or in quarters for a round pie or tart pan) to make it easier to lift and fit into the pan without stretching or tearing.
- Instead of vanilla, flavor the whipped cream garnish with a light splash of rum, whiskey, Grand Marnier or maple syrup.
- I used about half of the whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with an Ateco #9828 open star pastry tip to garnish the pie.
Spiced Sweet Potato Pie
1 1/4 cups (6 /14 oz) flour
2 teaspoons (8 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (2 1/2 oz) cold water
1 1/2 lbs (about 2 medium) sweet potatoes
2 oz (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
zest of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 star anise
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs @ room temperature
1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F to roast the sweet potatoes. Have your pie or tart pan at the ready.
For the pastry dough, place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process to combine. Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces, add to the flour mixture and process for about 5 seconds. Add the cold water and pulse about 15 times. The dough will look lumpy like cottage cheese. Gather the dough and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly, shaping into a flattened disc or rectangle as you seal it tight. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes or overnight.
When you’re ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the refrigerator and rest it on a lightly floured work surface for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking. Then roll the dough out to an 1/8” thickness in whatever shape will fit your pie or tart pan, gently lifting and moving the dough after each roll and keeping your work surface lightly floured as needed. Brush off any excess flour. Fold the dough in half or quarters and lift it onto your pie pan. Unfold and ease the dough into the bottom and corners. Form the edges of the crust by pressing or crimping the dough along the perimeter, trimming away any excess dough. Chill while you organize the remaining ingredients.
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into small chunks. Place them in an 8” square baking dish and toss with the melted butter, orange zest and spices to evenly coat. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes, tossing once or twice to baste. Remove from the oven and discard the star anise piece. Cool.
Place the roasted and cooled sweet potatoes along with any remaining butter into the bowl of a food processor. Add the brown sugar, buttermilk, vanilla and salt and process until smooth. Add the eggs and process until thoroughly combined.
Pour the filling into the prepared pastry-lined pie or tart pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 – 55 minutes, until the pastry is browned and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.
When ready to serve, whip the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla until medium soft peaks form. Gently lift the pie from the removable tart bottom if using and place on a platter. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.