Editor’s note: This recipe, a Southern classic, comes straight out of the glorious new book, Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking (Artisan Books, 2021). Here’s what Cheryl says about it:
This creamy custard pie made with golden baked sweet potatoes richly spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and orange zest is a staple in the South. It is always expected on the Thanksgiving dessert table, but most folks like to enjoy a slice or two all year long. Top the pie with the Meringue Topping, or serve with Chantilly Cream.
Optional Special Equipment: Kitchen blowtorch, if making the Meringue Topping
Extra-Flaky All-Butter Piecrust:
(Makes two 9-inch (23 cm) piecrusts or 1 double crust)
- 2½ cups (313 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon (4 g) baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup (118 ml) ice water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ pound (2 sticks/227 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch (3 cm) cubes
Sweet Potato Pie Filling:
- 1½ pounds (680 g) sweet potatoes (about 3 medium)
- ¾ cup (177 ml) heavy cream
- 2 large (100 g) eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons cane syrup
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup (150 g) packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 parbaked Extra-Flaky All-Butter Piecrust, cooled
Meringue Topping (optional):
- 3 large (90 g) egg whites
- ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Make the pie crust:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large measuring cup or small bowl, combine the water and vinegar. Set aside.
- Toss the pieces of butter in the flour mixture to coat. Then use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour. You should have various-sized pieces of butter ranging from coarse sandy patches to flat shaggy pieces to pea-sized chunks, with some larger bits as well. Drizzle in about half of the ice water mixture and stir lightly with a fork until the flour is evenly moistened and the dough starts to come together. If the dough seems dry, add a little more ice water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. The dough will still look a bit shaggy at this point. If you grab a small piece of dough and press it lightly with your hand, it should mostly hold together.
- Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and gather it together into a tight mound. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough a little at a time, pushing it away from you and working your way down the mass of dough to create flat layers of flour and butter. Then gather the dough back together with a bench scraper, layering the clumps of dough on top of one another. Repeat the process once or twice more; the dough should still have some big pieces of butter visible.
- Cut the dough in half. Shape each piece into a disk and flatten it. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight, to rest. The dough can be stored, well wrapped, for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or up to 1 month in the freezer. If it’s been frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
- Lightly dust your rolling pin with flour. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface (or use a pastry cloth dusted with flour if you have one) and dust the top of the dough with a little flour as well. Give the dough a good thwack with the rolling pin before you start to roll. Roll out the dough into a 12-inch (30 cm) round. Roll the dough up around your pin and unfurl it into the pie dish. Trim the dough overhang to about 1 ½ inches (4 cm). Cover the crust with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Once the crust is fully chilled, prick the bottom all over with a fork.
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375˚F (190˚C). Line the pie shell with parchment (or heavy-duty foil) and fill with dried beans, rice or pie weights. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the crust are lightly golden brown. Carefully remove the parchment and weights and allow the crust to cool completely before filling. Leave the oven on at 375°F (190°C), but position a rack in the center of the oven.
Make the filling:
- Wrap each sweet potato in aluminum foil. Place directly on an oven rack and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until soft enough to pierce with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Turn the oven down to 325°F (165°C).
- Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and mash them. Measure out 2 cups (500 g) of the flesh for this recipe.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), beat the sweet potato flesh on medium speed until smooth. Lift up the paddle (or beaters) and remove and discard any strings from the sweet potatoes, so they don’t make it into your pie. Add the heavy cream, eggs, cane syrup, and butter to the sweet potatoes and mix until fully incorporated. Add the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and vanilla, mixing until smooth.
- Pour the filling into the prepared piecrust and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling is firm around the edges and the center wobbles slightly if jiggled.
Make the topping (optional):
- Put the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a medium heatproof bowl), set the bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), and whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the egg whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes. The mixture should appear pale and opaque. Rub a little bit of it between your fingers to make sure all the sugar is dissolved; it should feel smooth, without any grittiness.
- Attach the bowl to the mixer stand (if using) and fit it with the whisk attachment (or use a handheld mixer). Add the vanilla and, starting on low speed, whip the egg whites, gradually increasing the speed to high, until the meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Pile the meringue sky-high on top of the filling, making sure it touches the crust all the way around. Toast lightly with a kitchen blowtorch. The pie can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Excerpted from Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021.
*Photographs by Angie Mosier