Food For Thought

(Nov. 16, 2018) Thanksgiving is a time to feast and desserts are no exception; our family devours the sweet course with as much gusto as the first round.

Pumpkin, sweet potato and pecan pie are the trinity of deliciousness. Every pie is unique and deserves special attention for perfection.

We will be focusing on sweet potato pie. Remember, it is the smallest details that set your pie apart from others.

You can make a sweet potato pie crust with several types of flour; the lower the flour’s protein level, the more tender the crust.

That being said, pastry and all-purpose flour are the two best overall options. Pastry flour will yield a delightful fork-tender crust, though its dough is a bit delicate and tricky to handle.

All-purpose flour will produce a moderately tender crust and is easier to manage. As you get more confident with your baking skills, you might want to experiment with pastry flour.

Sweet potato filling is rich; adding cornmeal and an egg yolk to the dough before baking gives it more structure to support the filling. It also adds a rustic essence that is fitting for a sweet potato filling.

Tenderness and flakiness are the hallmarks of a great crust. The trick is how you obtain both.

By working the fat into the flour, you are coating the flour’s gluten with fat which produces a tender crust. As the pie bakes and the fat melts, these layers stay separated which we perceive as flakiness.

Vegetable shortening generates a crust that holds its shape but lacks flavor. Butter delivers a flaky crust with wonderful taste but its water content can create a slightly puffy crust. Lard has a higher melting point than butter or shortening which creates an extra-flaky crust though the flakes are smaller in size.

Whatever fat you choose, make sure it is cold. Cold fat in pie dough is essential for a flaky crust.

Most pie recipes are written for plain table salt. If you use a coarse salt, you will want to add more than the recipe calls for.

In addition, you will also want to dissolve the coarse salt in some of water that is included in the recipe; this ensures the salt is evenly distributed throughout the dough.

The most important step when making sweet potato filling is to bake the sweet potatoes as opposed to boiling them. Water-logged potatoes produce an inferior pie.

To make sure the filling is smooth and has the consistency of a soufflé; remove the potatoes’ fibrous strings before whipping in the eggs and butter.

Orange zest and ginger brings out the flavor of the sweet potatoes which easily can be overpowered by the allspice and cloves.

For a little extra wow factor, serve sweet potato pie with a finely chopped toasted pecan and crystalized ginger topping. This adds flavor and gives the pie a contrast in texture.

In closing, Thanksgiving is synonymous with sweet potatoes. The popular potato is not only delicious but symbolic of our “roots.”

Sweet potato pie with bourbon chantilly cream is well worth the extra effort. Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

* The following recipe is an adaptation of Dolester Miles sweet potato pie with bourbon chantilly cream

Sweet Potato Pie with Bourbon Chantilly Cream

For the Crust

1 cup flour

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup yellow cornmeal

1 stick unsalted butter (cold), cut into cubes

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons ice water

1. Combine flour, sugar, salt and cornmeal in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles large peas. Add egg yolk and water, and continue to run the food processor. Once the dough holds together, roll it into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Remove dough from the refrigerator and let soften for about 10 minutes.

3. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Dust dough with flour and roll into a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 to ¼-inch thick, then press into one 9-inch pie pan, trimming excess and crimping edges.

5. Cover dough with parchment paper, fill with pie weights or dry beans. You can also “dock” or prick the dough with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before adding filling.

For the Filling

3 medium sweet potatoes (2 firmly packed cups)

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¾ cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 stick unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Bake sweet potatoes for 30 minutes or until fork tender. Allow to cool. Peel.

3. Place peeled sweet potatoes in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until potatoes are thoroughly mashed. Remove any fibrous strings and again beat potatoes. You will need 2 firmly packed cups of potatoes.

4. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.

5. Add the remaining ingredients to the sweet potato mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.

6. Pour filling into the pre-baked, cooled crust and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the filling is slightly puffed and set in the middle. Cool completely on a rack.

Bourbon Chantilly Cream


1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons good quality bourbon

4 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Using an electric mixer, beat all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until the cream is softly whipped.

Yields: One 9-inch pie

Secret Ingredient – Feasting. “I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food.”

– Erma Bombeck

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