When it comes to pies, I usually only make them around the holidays. Even though I love them, I am usually in a time crunch when it comes to baking, so I usually go for relatively quick and easy recipes instead. Well, for this year’s Thanksgiving, I made my usual apple pies, the recipe for which I shared in a previous post. For Christmas however, I decided to give sweet potato pie a try. The recipe I used came from this southern baking cookbook from my collection:
When my family used to celebrate Thanksgiving with my Uncle Kee, Auntie Georgina, and my cousin Chris, they would have a whole household of visitors coming and going. The eating would start at lunch time and continue all the way into the evening. Everyone contributed something to this day of celebration, and several people would invariably bring over some pies, with pumpkin and sweet potato being the staples. Most of these pies were store-bought, and for many years, I couldn’t tell the difference between sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. They seemingly had the same texture and flavor and looked the same, so I didn’t know what the big fuss was with sweet potato pie.
That was until I volunteered one year for Uhuru House, a local organization that, as part of their fundraising efforts, would bake up and sell holiday pies. I purchased a sweet potato pie from them for our Thanksgiving dinner one year. It was definitely different from all the other sweet potato pies I had had in the past. It even looked different, with a bumpy and craggy surface that made it look definitely homemade and not perfectly smooth like a lot of store-bought pies. Texture-wise, it was lighter and fluffy and not as dense as previous pies.
Well, the recipe in my cookbook had egg whites whipped into a meringue and folded into the sweet potato mixture, so I figured the resulting pie would be lighter in texture and less dense, similar to the one from Uhuru House. I was on the phone with my best friend, Li, the other day, right before I made the pies. Li grew up in the south, and like many other southerners, she much prefers sweet potato to pumpkin. When I mentioned the pie I had from Uhuru House many years ago and how I wanted to replicate the fluffiness of that pie, she told me that the pies she had back home were country-style, meaning they were dense and did not involve any meringue, so I guess I still don’t know what the heck Li is talking about when she tells me about how good the sweet potato pies were from her childhood. Regardless, this recipe makes a great pie, with a lighter texture than what you can buy from most bakeries.
SOUTHERN SWEET POTATO PIE – Makes two 9-inch pies
(Recipe adapted from Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie by Bill Neal)
Pie dough to make two single 9-inch crusts – I used my go-to recipe, the same one that I used for my apple pies here, but halved it
1-1/2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup molasses
3 cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes, from about 2 lbs sweet potatoes
1-1/3 cups half-and-half
4 eggs, separated *
3/4 cup dry sherry
1) Preheat oven to 450 F.
2) Divide the pie dough in half and roll each piece out to about an eighth of an inch thick, to fit a 9-inch pie pan.
3) Place each piece of rolled out dough into a pie pan, preferably a clear glass one. Trim any excess dough.
4) Lightly press a piece of foil into each pie shell. Pour about 1-1/2 cups dried beans, rice, or pie weights into the foil to weigh it down.
5) Bake shells in preheated oven for 8 minutes. Remove pie pans from oven. Remove foil with the beans/rice. (Save beans/rice for another pie). Using a fork, thoroughly prick all over the bottom of each shell. Prick the sides sparingly.
6) Return pie crusts to oven, and bake for an additional 8 minutes for partially baked shells, checking occasionally. If the shells start to really puff up, prick them again, and gently press out the bubbles. If the edges of the crusts are browning too fast, cover the rims with loose pieces of foil.
7) Remove partially baked pie shells from oven. Turn oven temperature down to 425 F.
8) Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl using a fork or whisk to combine.
9) Add molasses and sweet potatoes. Beat well.
10) Stir in half-and-half, egg yolks, and sherry.
11) Beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold into the sweet potato mixture.
12) Pour pie filling into the prepared pie shells, dividing the filling evenly between the two.
13) Place pies into the oven, and immediately reduce heat to 375 F. Bake until the pies are nicely browned and the fillings are set, about 35 to 45 minutes. (When ready, the filling will jiggle slightly when the pie pan is shaken. It should not jiggle as if it was still liquidy inside. As the pies cool, the fillings will continue to firm up from the internal heat.)
13) Cool pies on rack. Serve warm or cold. Each pie will yield 6 to 8 slices.
* Tip: For best results, wipe down either a metal or glass bowl (no plastic) with a bit of white vinegar to remove any trace bits of grease. Separate eggs right after you remove them from the fridge, placing the whites in the bowl you’ve wiped down. Set the yolks and whites aside, covered, and allow them to come to room temperature. Wipe down whisk with a bit of vinegar before whipping the egg whites.
Are you a fan of either pumpkin or sweet potato pie? Which do you prefer? Please share in the comments.