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Sweet Potatoes

With this iconic Southern dessert, it’s all about the filling, which traditionally consists of cooked, smashed sweet potatoes, butter, sugar, eggs, milk, cinnamon and nutmeg. Other regional flavor variations include banana extracts, bourbon, ginger, allspice or vanilla. And, the texture of the baked custard filling runs the gamut from light and silky to dense, depending upon the ratio of sweet potato, milk and eggs.

In this recipe, the filling has been lightened up by omitting butter, reducing the hefty amounts of sugar and eggs traditionally used while upping the portion of sweet potato, which creates a filling that is more reminiscent of a luscious, rich pudding rather than a dense custard. The ridiculously-easy cinnamon graham cracker and gingersnap cookie crumb crust uses healthy, nutty-tasting roasted walnut oil as a binder-- the perfect flavor foil to showcase the rich, caramel taste of the sweet potato--no compromises here!

From a culinary point of view, although the majority of the filling is made with a steamed, puréed vegetable, the eggs and milk make it perform structurally like custard, and it’s cooked at a relatively low temperature to prevent it from curdling. And, like all custard-style pies, the secret to the success of this dessert is to cook it twice, using a 2-step process: the crust must be pre-baked and still warm when the room-temperature filling is poured into it—a step that not only helps to set up the filling, but also prevents the crust from getting soggy. It’s also crucial to remove the pie from the oven while the center still has a bit of a quiver when shaken-- it will continue to cook and set up after it is taken from the oven. If the filling is cooked too long, its texture will be grainy and watery around the edges-- a fatal flaw with texture-driven desserts, so… keep an eye on the clock while it’s in the oven.

Lightened –Up Southern Sweet Potato Pie
Serves: 6- 8
Image of Sweet Potato Pie
4 ounces good-quality cinnamon graham crackers (about 10 graham crackers)
4 ¼ ounces good-quality gingersnap cookies (about 16 small cookies)
3 Tbs. roasted walnut oil
3 Tbs. whipped Earth Balance Buttery spread (or unsalted butter)
¼ tsp. kosher flake salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbs. roasted walnut oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In alternating layers, place graham crackers and gingersnap cookies in bowl of food processor, and pulse till a crumb consistency. Add cinnamon, salt, butter or butter spread and roasted walnut oil and pulse again until crumb mixture is moistened—about 12 pulses (makes 2 cups). Add 1 tablespoon oil to 12-inch tart pan and film the bottom and sides of a pan with a pastry brush. Spread crumb mixture on the bottom and 1-inch up the sides and lightly flatten with your fingers or the bottom of a flat-bottom glass. Bake for 15 minutes till crisp. Remove from oven and allow to cool till warm to the touch.

2 pounds small sweet potatoes (about 8),
½-inch of ends cut off
2 jumbo eggs
14 oz. can organic sweetened, condensed milk
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
½ tsp. salt
Juice of ½ navel orange (about 2 Tbs.)
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg whipped cream (optional) sprinkling of nutmeg

Place sweet potatoes in a steamer pot, and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until soft in the center. Turn off heat, cover and allow sweet potatoes to cool in pot. When cool enough to handle, peel the sweet potatoes with your fingers removing the lighter layer under the skin along with the peel, and loosely crumble into bowl of a food processor. Add sweetened condensed milk, maple syrup, eggs, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and pulse mixture until incorporated—about 15-20 pulses. (Be careful not to over-beat or the filling will be tough.) Pour filling into warm crust and tap pie several times on counter to remove any air bubbles. Run a rubber or silicone spatula over top of filling to smooth it out, then sprinkle reserved 1/3 cup of crumbs around outside edge of pan. Place pie on lower third of oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the center and filling is still a bit jiggly.

Take out of oven and cool till room temperature, then cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours (or best overnight) to firm up. Serve with whipped cream and a sprinkling of nutmeg.
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