For Thanksgiving or Any Time: Sweet Potato Pie

This is a nice variation on a traditional holiday favorite, and it is one of those desserts you can feel really good about, because the sweet potatoes are so good for you!  In fact, I often make this pie on a weekend and my husband and I eat it for breakfast during the week.  I started making sweet potato pie about ten years ago, using the Southern Sweet Potato Pie recipe in the Taste of Home Baking Book.  The original recipe was good, but a lot sweeter than we liked.  My first modifications were to double the quantity of sweet potatoes while reducing the sugar from 1 2/3 cups sugar down to one cup, and I’ve recently started using German röhrzucker (demerara), which I really like.  I also cut the butter in half and eliminated the corn syrup, and the final major change was to substitute plain whole-milk yogurt for evaporated milk.  The yogurt gives the pie a barely perceptible tang underneath the sweet potato flavor, along with a wonderfully smooth texture.

In addition to great taste, the pie is really simple to make.  Many recipes tell you to start with canned sweet potatoes or to peel, cube, boil, and mash fresh sweet potatoes, but there is an easier way: I bake the sweet potatoes ahead of time, whenever I happen to have the oven on for something else.  To bake, cut the sweet potatoes in half if they are large, and wrap in foil (they might leak syrup, so place on a baking sheet).  Bake until tender (40 minutes to an hour) and at that point you can refrigerate them for several days until needed.  When you are ready to make the pie the skins will slip right off; follow the steps below for a smooth creamy pie filling and fast clean-up.

Sweet Potato Pie

  • Pastry for single crust 9” deep-dish pie (recipe below)
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (I use demerara but regular American brown sugar is also good)
  • 2 baked sweet potatoes, peeled (about 2 to 2½ cups)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons flour

Prepare pastry with a high fluted edge and blind-bake for 5-6 minutes at 400 F. (see below).  While the crust is in the oven, put the remaining ingredients in the blender in the order listed.  If your blender jar has cup markings, you don’t really need to use a measuring cup except for the sugar.  Once the sugar is in the yogurt-butter-egg mixture, give it a buzz and then eyeball the liquid displacement as you add the sweet potatoes in big chunks until the volume of ingredients in the blender has increased by 2 – 2½ cups (the quantity is flexible depending on the size of the sweet potatoes).  If there is syrup from the sweet potatoes in the foil you baked them in, go ahead and pour that in too.  Add the rest of the ingredients and puree until smooth.

By this time, the crust should be done enough – put it on the bottom shelf of the oven and pour the filling in.  It will probably fill it clear to the top….if you end up with too much filling for the crust, you can bake the extra custard in a little ramekin.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F. and bake the pie for about an hour, or until the filling is no longer jiggly and a toothpick inserted near the center of the pie comes out clean.

Deep-Dish Pastry

  • 1 ¼ cups pastry flour*
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter or shortening*
  • ¼ cup or so cold water

Combine the flour and salt and then cut in the butter or shortening with a pastry blender until you have a mix of small and medium particles.  Add water a tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork until the dough barely comes together.  If you are using butter, bring the dough together in a blob, wrap with plastic, and refrigerator for about an hour before rolling.  If you are using shortening, you can go ahead and roll the pastry.  The sweet potato custard will completely fill the crust and the finished pie is heavy, so use a glass pan or a strong metal one.  If all you have is a foil pan, place it on a baking sheet before you fill the crust.  For more pie crust tips, see this pastry tutorial.

*I’m a good pastry maker, if I do say so myself, but recently I’ve had several pie crust failures in a row.  One was my own fault because I had a lot going on in the kitchen at once and set a hot baking dish on my marble pastry board for a while.  The marble was still much too warm when I went to roll out my dough, so the tough, hard crust wasn’t really a surprise.  I also think I somehow ended up with a bag of flour that just wasn’t the best.   To get back on track, I bought German type 405 flour, which I think is very similar to American pastry flour.  I also re-verified my measurements by weighing ingredients (the traditional 3:2:1 ratio of flour:fat:water) and there weren’t any problems in the proportion.  I’ve also decided that a shortening crust stands up to a solid heavy filling like this sweet potato pie better than butter pastry.  I still like that butter flavor though, so when I was blind-baking I used an old trick of my grandma’s.  I’ll always remember Grandma in the kitchen of the restaurant she and Grandpa owned – she would dump a whole big bag of flour into a giant bowl, mix in shortening and water with her hands, and end up with a dozen perfect pies without ever measuring a thing.  I’m sure she used shortening because it was more economical and let her offer her customers homemade pie for a dollar a slice….she always brushed the crust lightly with melted butter, and that gave the pastry a nice buttery taste.


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